I thought I’d posted this before but couldn’t find it—here’s a bit from one of M’s sermons that I think captures the proper perspective on Lent:
The season of Lent is often associated with deprivation or giving something up. Our Prayer Book reminds us that Lent in the Early Church was about fasting and penitence and invites us today into a period of prayer, fasting, repentance, and self-denial. But Lent can also be a time to add things to our lives, especially holy habits. The Prayer Book also invites us into a period of self-examination, reading and meditating on God’s Word. If you’re like me, though, the idea of
adding just one more thing to your life is almost unbearable. I mean—life is hard enough as it is with juggling children, jobs, and relationships. How can you hope to fit in more spiritual things?
The word Lent comes from an old word meaning springtime. One way to think about Lent without stressing yourself out is to think about it like an early springtime garden. In the early spring last year’s beautiful garden can look like quite a mess. Heaps of leaves from the fall lay around, dead plants from the previous year poke up, and maybe some industrious weeds have already gotten a head start on you. If you want a beautiful garden again this year, then it’s time to begin again. You have to start by getting rid of the stuff that’s there—maybe even stuff that once was living, vibrant, and beautiful but isn’t anymore. So you start raking…what activities in your life seem to just exist to fill space—and don’t really add anything to your life? And you start pulling up last year’s dead plants…what are those intentions that you always wanted to do but never got around to and
now feel guilty about? Or those things that you use to do because they gave you joy and peace, but now don’t? Finally you go after those little weeds…what new little things are poking up in your life that you’re not terribly proud of?
Once all of the clutter has been cleared away, it’s time to put in some new plants. Now some people may just put in fully-grown plants right away but most start with new plants, with young plants that require care and nurturing or else they will die right a way. They have to be tended for a while until they can live on their own without constant watering and care. This is the helpful way to think about adding things to your life—not piling yet another thing onto an already full schedule. If you’re going to give something up, give away something that sucks up your time and energy, and plant something beautiful and life-giving in its place. Like taking a few minutes to read the Bible with your morning cup of coffee or reading one or more of the daily devotions in the Prayer Book with your kids, spouse, or a friend.
So instead of thinking just about giving things up or piling things on, think of Lent as your early springtime garden that needs cleaning up the old overgrowth and putting in some new things. These are the holy habits. Holy habits are the things that we are called to nurture and, like young plants, habits really do have to be nurtured before they become natural. These are the holy habits that discipleship demands and that today’s Gospel tells us to take up during
Discipleship, taking up our cross, is a life-long process, not just something we do during Lent. It is a daily task that requires discipline, strength, prayer, and assistance from God. We as Christians are called to be disciples each day whether things in our lives are going well or not. Discipleship is not something to be taken lightly, done only when we feel like it, when it’s popular, or when it’s convenient. It is living out holy habits, something we do each day of our lives until we die. The hymn we just sang illustrates this well
when it says in verse 5: “Take up your cross, then follow Christ, nor think till death to lay it down; for only those who bear the cross may hope to wear the glorious crown.”
Lent can be a great time to begin this process, to begin growing the holy habits that will last a lifetime—and beyond. Jesus calls us to discipleship. Jesus calls us to take up our cross. Not to be popular or to follow an easy road but follow him wherever he leads.