I'm challenged by the Ash Wednesday liturgy that calls us to observe a "Holy Lent." When I was growing up as a catholic school boy in southeastern Michigan, Lent was presented to us as a time to make small sacrifices. The reason for the sacrifice was never clearly explained. We simply "gave something up" for Lent. Usually it was something we liked -- soft drinks, candy -- as I got older and more of a smart Alec I would choose Brussels Sprouts or Broccoli.
As I now understand it to be "holy" means to be set a part for God. God is holy. We become holy by drawing near to God. Therefore, to observe a "Holy Lent" means, quite simply, to draw near (or nearer) to God. First of all I have to remember that God never moves. God can be no closer to me now then God has ever been. God is omnipresent. What moves or changes is me. My life, my brokenness creates a barrier and the illusion of distance. It is that perception that must change to have a "Holy Lent." I need to see that God's love is the same as it has always been. I need to be reminded that no matter who I am, what I've done, where I've been, etc. God still loves me and calls me to a better relationship and a better way of living.
There are certain time honored practices that help me break through my barriers and deepen my awareness of the never changing presence of a loving God. Through the centuries Christians have engaged in these practices (sometimes called spiritual disciplines). Lent is a time to make space for prayer. It is a time to meditate on God's goodness and the grace and love lavished upon us by the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a time to practice self denial (we call it fasting) or abstinence. The purpose of doing this is focus. I give up something allowed (food beverage, the Internet) as a conscious offering to God and then use the surrendered time and energy to move closer to God.
I think, however, that in modern America we are so individualistic and so "me" centered, engaging in spiritual disciplines on our own and or our own benefit is just another form of consumer religion. Maybe what I should give up is myself by joining a group or investing time in someone in need. Maybe what would make this Lent truly holy and God like would be to emulate Jesus. Jesus who "did come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28)." What would make Lent holy would be for me to gave my life in as a sacrifice of service to others and working to make this world a better place.
If you have to "give something up" this season: why not make it yourself?