Several years ago, I had a friend who gave up breath mints for Lent. The guy had a good heart, but please–if you love God and those around you–don't consider following his example this year. Of all the possible things God might desire for you during the coming weeks... I'm quite sure that there is no good connection between holiness and halitosis. Hopefully it isn't breath mints, but is there something else you've thought about giving up as a way of observing Lent? Or perhaps you've decided to take something on? Maybe you've had experiences of others giving things up along the lines of my friend and his unfortunate 40 day abstinence from fresh breath, so you've decided that giving things up isn't for you.
Giving things up or taking things on during these weeks can be helpful, but any decision to do so needs to be set in the right context in order for it to be beneficial to us and others rather than harmful. Sometimes, we tend to think that if there's anything we enjoy, we would be really spiritual if we decided to abstain from it during Lent. So, we end up saying no to things like chocolate (or breath mints) in order to really feel like we're making a sacrifice for God.
Being intentional about our practices during these weeks of Lent is an excellent idea, but we should be careful not to confuse the means (our spiritual practices) with the end (opening our lives to God) as we think about the things we're giving up or the things we're taking on. Ruth Haley Barton states the point of our Lenten practices succinctly by framing them with the question:
How will I find ways to return to God with all my heart?
I hope that you can let that question simmer in your mind through the remainder of this week. As each of us does so, we can trust that God will lead us.
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]