Lent begins today, of course. And it always sneaks up on me and I always think about doing something for Lent, like taking on a new prayer practice or taking more time for family. I try to make it more about God but it often is something to make my life easier. I know too many people who use Lent as a time to kick-start their diet and I feel like we keep missing the point of Lent every year.
I know that many people use Lent as a time of spiritual renewal, of turning back to God and reconnecting with one’s spiritual life. But this year, in these past few days before Lent begins, I’m going back to the good ol’ fashioned Giving Up Something For Lent, but with a twist. For the six weeks of Lent, here are six things I am giving up:
1. The Perfect Spirituality. Let’s face it: I was never a morning person and with a child who doesn’t sleep well I’m not going to become one anytime soon who gets up to pray and read the Bible. For a long time, when I was younger and single, I had a nightly prayer ritual and devotional reading, but it’s gone out the window. I keep trying to find something that works for me and it hit me the other day: Following my call to ministry is my spiritual path. Praying in the moment. Being available for the spiritual needs of others. Reading the Gospel lessons before our Sunday School class. When I really feel things getting heavy in ministry, I take myself out to breakfast or lunch. That’s my spiritual moment. I find myself refreshed and renewed over a plate of bacon and eggs and a cup of coffee. And maybe Jesus is sitting in the booth across from me, I don’t know. It’s not perfect, but it’s my spiritual life.
2. The Perfect Call. I’m going back to the original reason I went into ministry: that I felt God was calling me into ministry. God has called me, and you, into ministry to serve God. Not to have a paying job, not to pay back our seminary loans, not to create the programs we’ve dreamed of. No. We’ve been called into ministry because God called us and we said yes. At least, that’s my story. I was thirteen years old, and I felt God’s call to ministry. Some days I lose sight of that. I am frustrated at a board meeting or sitting at a blank screen trying to type a sermon, or looking at the decreasing funds and wondering if they can afford to pay me in the next few months, but I need to go back and remember, I am in this because I said yes to God. Because I want to. Because this is who I am. I giving up all other reasons, including the idea of a perfect church, because we are imperfect people and a perfect church would not need a pastor.
3. The Perfect Life. I have student loans. I married another pastor who has loans. We have a child with special needs and we have thousands of dollars in medical bills every year. Vacations for us are road trips for a few days off, or if we’re lucky visiting the family that we have moved away from because of following God’s call. There are places I’ve dreamed of going and things I’ve dreamed of doing. I’m not giving up the possibility of every doing those things and visiting those places, but I’m giving up the idea that if I had chosen something else I would have those things. I chose this life because following the call of God is fulfillment enough for me.
4. The Perfect Body. I’m overweight. I do work out and enjoy jogging, but I’m never going to have a body I don’t have the genes for. I work on my physical health, but there are a variety of body types and I’ve been a larger person my whole life. I’m not going to give something up for Lent that deprives me of something I enjoy to show my devotion to God. Being happy and working on being healthy in the body I have is giving thanks to the Creator.
5. The Perfect Mindset. There will be days in which I complain about my life not being perfect, in which I will try and fail at spiritual practice, in which everything will seem to go wrong. There will be days when I question God and I’ll be short-tempered. I won’t always say the right thing or act in the right way. There will be plenty of times I need to ask for forgiveness. This doesn’t mean I won’t always try to do better, but I give up the idea that I need to have the appearance of being calm, collected and cool at all times. I’m a human being and I make mistakes.
6. The Perfect Sermon Series. Every year I try to come up with a great sermon series for my congregation, to help others renew their spiritual lives and connect with God and be transformed, but just like any other Sunday, there are times when what I thought was a great idea will fall flat, or the point will be missed, or I will realize on Saturday night that what I have been thinking about that whole week (or even weeks at this point) isn’t going to work. By the time I get to the fifth Sunday of Lent I’m thankful it’s almost over. But isn’t that the point? Easter is almost here! The Resurrection—the hope of new life—it’s still there!
Lent is, of course, a human concoction. We created it as a practice to help us prepare for Easter, for the lengthening of days in the springtime (from which the word Lent comes from). There is nothing that says we need to observe these forty days (not counting Sundays, of course) before Easter begins in a way that is different from before. Rather, it’s a choice we make to use this time, every year, to try to do the right thing and live the right way and try, try, try, to draw closer to God when we know, deep down, God is always near. It is always God who draws close to us.
I’m sure to some this seems like a copout. It’s sort of like giving up Lent for Lent. But in reality, I do hope these six weeks to find myself feeling more in tune with God than with myself and the world. I hope I can really let go of these attitudes and instead cling to a more authentic realization of myself as a pastor, an imperfect human, following the call of God on her life.