Monday, February 23, 2009

Lent

For members of many Christian denominations, it is traditional to give something up for Lent. I remember first becoming aware of this practice when I was 7 or 8 and someone presented a skit during a Worship service in which a little boy was planning on giving up his jelly beans for Lent. I've always believed that the practice of giving something up for those 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter is sort of in commemoration of those 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness and being tempted before beginning His formal ministry. Kind of a Jesus suffered, so I'm going to deny myself and suffer too kind of thing (sounds very catholic of me, doesn't it?)

I've given up lots of things in the past, sometimes frivolous (like the time I gave up soda (FYI, I probably drink about 144 oz of soda each year, so giving it up was no big deal)), sometimes less frivolous (like the year I gave up sweets, which to some might seem just as frivolous as soda, but let me tell you, it wasn't me who enabled me to avoid sweets during that time--it was God alone who gave me the strength to overcome my addiction).

When I became involved in the United Methodist Church, I discovered that they have a different take on Lent. During my years in the UMC I've been encouraged to add something during Lent, something that's good for me, like daily Bible study and prayer.

So, just because that's the way I am, I've incorporated both of these ideas into my own Lent observances. I search my life for something that's getting in the way of my relationship with God, and give that up. I then fill that empty space in my life with something that will allow me to grow closer to God. The first year I did this was when I was pregnant with Cody. During that time, I wasn't working, didn't have any kids yet, and I just craved structure, so I found it in the form of Northern Exposure.

If you don't know about Northern Exposure, let me just say that it was an hour long television show that I found entertaining. It was on A&E every weekday at 2 p.m., and it got to the point where I literally planned my life around that show. If I had to go to town for something, and I wasn't able to get going early enough that I would be able to get home before Northern Exposure started, I wouldn't go. Yes, we had a VCR; I could have recorded it to watch later, but I didn't. Crazy? Maybe. Compulsive? Sure. Obsessive? Definitely. I allowed Northern Exposure to rule my life. So I gave up Northern Exposure that Lent, and I used that hour to read the Bible and pray. That was, quite honestly, one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.

I think all of us has a Northern Exposure in our life. Something that we latch on to, something that we elevate to a falsely important position in our lives. Something that gives us a sense of security, or a sense of control. Something that isn't where we ought to be placing our hope, trust, and security. And if you can identify that something, and give that something up, releasing its hold on you, you can use that empty space in your life to reconnect with our rock, our shield, our source of hope and comfort, the one true God.

This is all just a fancy way for me to say I'm giving up the internet for Lent. As I think about my life, the internet stands out as something that I spend (waste) entirely too much time with, and something that is a crutch to me, and a barrier in my faith. This is a scary prospect for me, because at times I feel so isolated and alone here, far from family and with few nearby friends, and the internet provides me with an easy way to connect with others and feel like I'm not quite so much alone. I'm sure you can see where this is going...God is my constant companion, and by leaning so much on the internet, I've blinded myself to this truth.

I'm not sure yet what will fill the internet's place in my life during this time, but I do know that as the weeks pass, I will feel a sense of freedom that can only come from releasing the hold the things of this world have on me, and a sense of purpose that can only come from God.

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