By Ed Thompson
The season of Lent gets off to a late start this year since Easter doesn’t arrive until April 21. Usually by this time we have already been smudged with ashes and started our journey towards the cross. It also means that we have probably at least considered, even if we aren’t consistently practicing, what kind of Lenten discipline we will follow this year.
Traditionally, people give up things during Lent. At least that’s how we usually think about it. We may have grown up with our Catholic friends abstaining from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, which explains why the school cafeteria served either fish sticks or macaroni and cheese for lunch on those days and why so many parishes sponsored fish fries on Friday nights. As Protestants, we may have been encouraged to give up chocolate or cookies or, when we got older, alcohol for Lent.
Other people choose to take on an additional Lenten discipline like using a special devotional booklet or attending special midweek worship services or a Lenten Bible study. In each case, I think the intention is to draw us closer to God or to make space (or perhaps more space) in our lives for God.
To be honest, I don’t remember hearing much about Lent in the church when I was growing up. That was something the Roman Catholics did. It was probably when I was in college that the Presbyterian Church started to suggest that we might want to take some spiritual discipline during Lent. Since then, my track record has been pretty sporadic. I always start with good intentions but somehow get distracted after a few weeks. I’ve probably been better using devotional booklets, but even then, it seems like I always end up reading two or three selections per day during Holy Week trying to catch up so I can finish by Easter. Leading Lenten Bible studies as a pastor doesn’t really seem to count. Even though I was there every week and usually learned something along the way, it felt like doing this was more part of my job and not something I was doing to stretch my soul.
This year, I plan to take 5 minutes of silence every day to reflect on the ways God has blessed me and to remember the people who have helped me along the way. Perhaps because I’m an introvert, my life seems noisy. It’s not that I speak to that many people every day. Sometimes, there are meetings yes, and I do get some phone calls, but probably not as many as you think. I don’t watch that much television, although I do listen to the radio when I’m in the car and to some sporting events, sometimes several sporting events, each night on my XM radio. It’s the email, though, that generates a lot of noise. Some emails I enjoy. Some are a necessary part of the job. Many seem like background noise, like mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, distracting me from what’s important.
As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can detach myself from email during Lent. But I think I can take 5 minutes of silence each day.
What’s been your experience with Lent? What Lenten disciplines have worked for you in the past? What are you going to do for Lent this year?