Today on Facebook, my “friends” have begun to report those things they’re giving up for Lent. One is giving up beef, another watching the Big Bang theory, another Facebook (gasp), another caffeine. I think some have given up reading my blog.
Now, I’m no expert on Lent. I certainly did not grow up in a tradition that practiced Lent. When I moved to St. Paul in 2007, it was the first place I had lived where I saw ashes on foreheads in grocery stores and coffee shops on Ash Wednesday. I like the idea of thinking about time in relation to the movements of God into the world: Advent, Easter, Pentecost, etc. It keeps me from thinking of time as just one damned thing after another. So, I want to know more about the Lenten season. And I definitely like the idea of a season of living reflectively under the sign of the cross in anticipation of resurrection.
So, to be one of the Lent-ers, I find myself thinking about what I can give up. Already gave up cable. I’m pretty sure I need caffeine and sugar and that God wants me to enjoy life–so, those are out. I could give up reality TV shows, but I don’t watch any. Video games? Don’t play them. I could give up being slender. I’ve got a head start on that one right now and seem to be better at it the older I get. Writing sarcastic blogs? Maybe.
Truth is, I’m in a season of life when I’m adding things back. I’m embracing things again and I have some good life momentum toward God going that way. Is Lent just about giving things up? I’ve struggled with this Lenten season for many reasons, some that I think are important and actually a part of my understanding of the significance of the death of Jesus.
I have come over time to think of the death of Jesus, less as a punishment, and more as the fullest expression of a particular way of life. I think this is what bugs me a little bit about how people approach Lent. It seems like its about punishment, negation, deprivation for some people. But the cross to me is the embrace of a particular way of life–a life that begins with the realization that I am mortal, created, contingent, dependent on the mercies of God.
The effort to secure my own life leads to a deathly existence. It leads to clutter and excess and self-absorption and constant self-diligence. As a result, it leaves little room for others, for life, or for God. The life of Jesus expressed on the cross is a full expression of trust and hope and love. It is the surest way to make room for life, for gift, for others, for God. Trust is open and leaves room. And this is how I want to think about Lent.
So, it helps me to think about Lent less as giving things up, and more about making room. The results may be the same in terms of giving things up, but they may not be. By making the sign of the cross on my forehead, I am actually embracing a particular way of life, seeing my life less as a negation, and more as a full life-expression through the way of the cross.
Now you should take your Lent advice from someone who knows more about it than me. But this season, I will be making room.