Lent provides a time each year to focus again on what is important. It is a good time to get rid of the clutter. Since it happens each spring, the analogy of Spring Cleaning comes to mind, except that what is getting cleaned out is our hearts and overcrowded lives, not our basement, storage space or garage. As we think of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, we start our own 40 day journey (the Math doesn’t work out exactly, since Sundays are in Lent, but not of Lent).
There are three simple ways to find such a focus, and you probably have done all three at some point…
The first way to find focus is to give something up. You might normally give something up like chocolate after dinner or sugar in your coffee for Lent. It is a good discipline to see if you can make it until the end, but if you are going to give something up this Lent, I challenge you to give up something that really matters. It should be difficult, yet attainable. The confirmation kids always joke (are they joking?) that they want to give up homework for Lent. Nice try. A friend of mine who watches a lot of television gave that up one year, and it was really hard for him. That seems like a noteworthy sacrifice. One year I gave up all sugar. One year I gave up all snacking. One year I posted on Facebook, “For Lent, I give up.” Not exactly the right idea…but you can think of something that really matters to you to part with as an act of Lenten discipline.
The opposite of giving something up is taking something up. In my opinion this is a better practice. In seminary I took up reading scripture everyday; a practice that led to daily devotions (most days anyway) I do year round. One year I took up daily stretching to get back in shape, which also far exceeded my Lenten journey that year. I know others that take on additional acts of kindness or charitable giving that often leads to a new outlook on community and interaction with it. There are a lot of options here too. The problem becomes fitting it in to an already busy schedule, and while well intended sometimes the new thing becomes just one more thing, and it is hard to sustain.
An even better practice is to give something up and take something up. In essence you replace one practice for another, and if successful can build new habits and better use of your time. In our house we are giving up morning TV in favor of board games, reading, and using our imaginations. Eliminating morning TV will also give us more time to get ready instead of racing around at the last-minute. I am hopeful that this substitution will far exceed Easter morning, and we will all be better for it.
If you are not sure where to start this Lent, here is one idea…
Psalm 51 is a great one to read each day in Lent. We’ll read it tonight in worship. “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Make a copy of it and put it on your refrigerator to remind you each day. It is a simple prayer and piece of scripture that can be read aloud in a few seconds, and thought about all day long, and soon it will be committed to memory. As much as we decide what we might take up or give up this Lent, remember that it is God who forgives and makes holy – not the things we do. This Psalm is a good reminder of our place before God as we live in his world.
As I have shared on several occasions in groups, I like to read hymns devotionally. Sometimes I sing them, but often I read them and think about the words, not the melodies. The old saying in Latin is, “lex orandi, lex credendi. – the law of prayer is the law of belief.” A more contemporary way to say that is, “as we worship, so we believe.”
Here is a hymn from Carl P. Daw that illumines Psalm 51 for me, and I share it with you.
It is in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), Hymn #328.
Restore in us, O God, the splendor of your love;
renew your image in our hearts, and all our sin remove.
O Spirit, wake in us the wonder of your pow’r;
from fruitless fear unfurl our lives like springtime bud and flow’r.
Bring us O Christ, to share the fullness of your joy;
baptize us in the risen life that death cannot destroy.
Three personed God, fulfill the promise of your grace,
that we when all our searching ends, may see you face to face.
Maybe I’ll put this hymn of my fridge this year.
May your Lenten experience be rich and fruitful, as you enter the wilderness.
In Christ, we never walk alone. See you along the way.
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out | my offenses.
2Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my offenses,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment.
5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of | your salvation
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Icon3Ashwednesday (pic), Psalm 51, and ELW#328
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Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #23311.