Lent in Wisconsin – given our weather, that may seem a bit redundant. Ironically though, it is during Lent each year the we notice our days becoming longer. Day by day we notice more that we have longer periods of sunshine. The darkness fades and makes way for the light, a wonderful foreshadowing of Easter.
Can we say that of our lives? The traditional Lenten focus of self denial and penance are all well and good, but only as long as they keep us focused on God. Self denial that doesn’t focus us on God is a sort of macabre self abuse based in a belief that God doesn’t really like us very much, let alone love us, and gets some sort of gratification out of seeing us make ourselves miserable.
In the middle ages, as well as in contemporary times, there are some extreme examples of this sort of behavior. If you have read The DaVinci Code or seen the movie you know the kinds of practices to which I refer. The belief was that if you punished your flesh you achieved spiritual gain. In reality, these practices deny the reality of the Incarnation, which says that in Jesus Christ God entered the world in a radical way, and in so doing redeemed it – flesh, spirit, and everything else.
So how do we approach a Lenten discipline? If we want to give something up, that’s fine – but only if giving that thing up causes us to reflect on God each time we have to make a choice about what we have given up.
As an alternative, might I suggest that a valuable Lenten discipline might be looking at forgiveness? Virtually every one of us is harboring some animosity toward someone – quite often, toward ourselves. A really valuable Lenten exercise would be to move toward forgiveness.
Popular culture often confuses forgiving with forgetting. It is absolutely unrealistic to expect a human being to forget having been offended, unless they are willing to forgive. Forgiveness is simply saying that even though I have been offended and would have the right to try to exact some sort of revenge, I choose not to do so.
I think we probably all know someone who is still bitter about a divorce that happened decades ago. I have family members who struggle with this very issue. These folks will often ask aloud, “How can my ex look at themselves in the mirror after what they did to me?” The truth is that they look at themselves in the mirror without difficulty because they have moved on with their lives! The only person who is hurt by our refusal to forgive is us. In refusing forgiveness we lock ourselves in the past – a past that no longer exists anywhere but in our own minds.
Free yourself this Lent. Reach out in forgiveness. You will be amazed at what a difference it makes!