Preparing for Lent

It took me until the second or third week in January to get my Christmas decorations put away and the Epiphany candles out on the table.  Easter is strangely early this year.  So Lent is really catching me off guard this time around!

Ash Wednesday is in two days, so I’m gathering supplies for some more seed-planting visual aids.  (For further explanation, see “Life and Death and Ash Wednesday”)  Last year’s bean plants got really out of control, so this year I’m going to try growing grass in our little pots.  At three and a half, Abby is definitely old enough to understand this exercise as more than an interesting nature study, and here’s the simple line I’ll use to explain the symbolism: “These plants remind us that we trust God to make us grow to be more like Jesus.”

The metaphor of planting is incredibly rich (which I guess Jesus already figured out, since he used it so much). It represents God’s ultimate sovereignty: “he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (I Cor. 3:7). And yet we’re not off the hook: it is our job to plant and water and fight the weeds, regardless of how God chooses to reward our efforts.  And the same is true in a spiritual sense.  Ultimately, God is the one who achieves our sanctification.  But we are called to take an active, intentional role in pursuing holiness, and in putting ourselves in a position to be changed by God.

Lent is a bit like a spiritual New Year’s Day, in that it provides an opportunity to hit the reset button (or the start button, as the case may be) on habits and disciplines that have grown lax.  It’s not just about sacrifice for its own sake, but about pruning back the neutral and even good components to our days to make more room for the very best.

To this end, I’m making some resolutions for the next forty days.

  • No bread.  When I crave it (and I will!), I can think of one of the following verses: “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” (Job 23:12); “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4); “I [Jesus] am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
  • Read the Bible every day. No skipping!  I’m praying that this discipline will become a delight, not a duty for my heart. (“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.  Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways.” Ps. 119:35-37)
  • Read/finish the following: Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, ed. Nancy Guthrie.  Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting by Marva J. Dawn

To top it off, here’s my favorite Lenten prayer, again:

 “I wish, therefore, O my God, to build all my trust upon Thee.  As Thou canst do all things, deign to implant in my soul this virtue which I desire, and to obtain it from Thy Infinite Mercy, I will often say to Thee: ‘Jesus, Meek and Humble of Heart, make my heart like unto Thee.‘”

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