"So, what did you give up for Lent this year?"
I hear whispers of these conversations every March (along with a sudden saturation of Filet O Fish commercials), which hail the coming of Easter and recognize that the church calendar is calling us to join an ancient practice. For those among us who come from more liturgical backgrounds, this six-week chatter is something we've heard all of our lives.
For those of us from less liturgical worship, it's all a bit odd and confusing-at best.
For me, it's been a poor excuse to get Jesus involved in my diet plan. Summer is coming; whimsical little sandals and adorable capri pants dot the malls. After a winter of hunkering down indoors, I wouldn't mind dropping a few pounds before its time to slip (or squeeze) into either. And so every year, my spring includes a diet. I skip sweets. I fend off cravings. Then I slap the name of Jesus on the end of my self-serving sacrifice and call it Lent.
As if the God of the universe really cares how many leftover Valentine's Day chocolates I have pilfered from my son's hidden stash. As if Lent was really just an ancient liturgical tradition designed to help me look good when I hit the sand and the waves come June.
For centuries, Christian communities have embraced a forty-day journey, one of reflection and intentionality that leads them directly to the foot of the cross on Easter Sunday. Simply put, Lent is a way of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus and the call he places upon our lives. Many Christians mark these forty days by challenging themselves to sacrifice because it is indeed what Jesus did during this holy season.
And yes, sometimes it does look as simple as skipping the brownies we are desperately dying to devour, but other times it involves practices that take us to places of deep character transformation. Lent can mean getting to work five minutes early to sit quietly in our cars and pray for our colleagues. Or breathing deep and calming our hearts before yelling at our spouse. Perhaps we add a moment of silence to our routine, fast on a Friday or journal a few poignant thoughts from our day that might normally be lost when the sun slips down. Or, finally reading that book on prayer from our sweet Aunt Jane.
Whatever your tradition, I urge you to consider what Lent might mean for you. I'm discovering that during Lent-or any other day-perhaps my best efforts are when I consistently decide to honor God's desires for my life. When I look at Jesus as more than the exclamation point on the decisions I've already made. Lent can be any day when we breathe deep and pause just long enough to catch a glimpse of God's holiness. When we recognize the majesty of small moments and the sacrifice of the loving God that made those moments possible. Lent is the journey of self-sacrifice and our selfless giving to others.
So I invite you to discover Lent-to journey toward a life lived for Jesus rather than asking Jesus simply to bless the lives we've already decided to live.
Tracey Bianchi is on pastoral staff at Christ Church of Oak Brook where she is a frequent teacher and preacher. Most of her time is spent raising a family in the Chicago suburbs while she dabbles in a freelance writing & speaking career. Her next book "Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood" is due out in May of 2012 (Baker/Revell).