So it’s Lent again.
Time to give up chocolate – and look forward to buying a new spring dress in a smaller size this Easter. Time to cut out beer – and hope your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will fall.
What Lent is really about
The concept of Lent is to take time to reflect on the depth and seriousness of our sins – both individually and corporately. And to do penance for those sins.
So what is penance?
Whenever I think of penance I remember the film The Mission in which a man is tormented with guilt after killing his brother. A kind Jesuit priest tells the man that God forgives him, even for this terrible crime. But the man refuses to be comforted. He needs to do something, to do penance. To allow himself to turn from his sin and back to life. And so the priest makes the man accompany him on a long journey with a huge bundle of armour and weaponry tied to him. And not until the man has almost killed himself, by dragging this great weight around, does he finally permit it to be cut from him – so that it falls over a cliff and is gone.
Penance is hard work.
It’s about facing up to our sins and seeing their full horror and consequences. It’s about denying ourselves the things that debase us, that make us less than who we might be. It’s about recognising our greatest vices and cultivating the opposing virtues.
Vices and virtues
So, at Lent, we need to start by knowing our greatest vice. If it is, say, pride – then we need to seek to conquer this vice, or give it up, by cultivating humility.
Let’s look then at our vices. And what better place to start than with the seven deadly sins?
If we are constantly looking at others and wishing we had what they have, then make Lent a time for big heartedness. Be the first to congratulate someone on getting the job or promotion you wanted yourself. Keep a thankfulness journal. Be satisfied with what you have. More than that, rejoice in your many blessings.
If we are constantly eating between meals and drinking ten pints a day, we might recognise how this lifestyle mirrors the injustice in how wealth is distributed in our world. Then maybe give up eating between meals or having second helpings. But do this – not to lose weight – do it to help you think of the many who go hungry every day. And see if a time of abstention and prayer over Lent prompt you to do more to help the poor in our world.
If we are constantly shopping at Westfield or online, if we are adding - with every pay cheque - to our collection of shoes or we feel the need to buy match tickets every Saturday, we might think about what the money we are spending could otherwise be doing. Give up half the money you would usually spend over a forty day period on your favourite passions and give that money to charity. Think of the fun and wellbeing you might be bringing to someone who has very little.
If we are being unfaithful – even if it’s just indulging in a little flirtation or fantasy – this is something we do need to stop and think about. Think about all the people and children suffering from broken relationships and betrayal. Whatever the state of your marriage or partnership, why not take forty days of self-control – refusing to engage with anyone outside the relationship who might get in the way of trying to remain faithful to the vows and promises you have made to your partners and families.
If we are full of vanity and pride, we may not realise it – but we are probably quite unloved and lonely. Take some time to experiment with humility and modesty. See how recognising our weaknesses not only gives us a truer perspective on who we are – but actually makes us more lovable.
If we are fundamentally lazy, always shirking our fair share of the work, then Lent might be a time for discipline and activity. Maybe ban the Snooze button on your phone. Get up half an hour earlier and do some tidying up. Get out of the house and do something in the local community. Get in touch with your local church – we all need help with our night shelter projects for the homeless at this time of year.
If we are quick to anger, we might take this season to slow down and think what comes out of our mouths and how our anger causes damage and division to those around us. Try to cultivate peace and calmness. Make a time for, say, twenty minutes of prayer and meditation each day.
Use Lent for its true purpose this year. A kind of spring cleaning of the vices that have crept into our lives and taken hold. CLICK TO TWEET
Be free of them. And be ready for spring. Not just with a trimmer waistline. But with the joy of big heartedness, abstemiousness, generosity, self control, humility, self-discipline and calmness.
Posted by Martine Oborne