A priest who was working in an inner city parish walked down the street one evening on his way home. A young man came out from the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. “Give me your money,” the young man said.
The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. “Oh, I’m sorry, Father,” said the young man, “I didn’t see your collar. I don’t want your money.”
Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. “Here,” he said. “Have a cigar.”
“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” the young man replied, “I gave up smoking for Lent.”
We have arrived at the season of Lent, that period of the church year in which people figure we are supposed to feel miserable. After all, tomorrow is Fat Tuesday — Mardi Gras in French — a time of joy and revelry, which stands in stark contrast to the observance that begins on Ash Wednesday. The fun stops. At least that is the popular understanding of Lent.
The word “Lent” originally meant “springtime,” not misery. The Lenten observance has changed over the centuries. The early church celebrated Lent for only a few days before Easter.
Over time, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at forty days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
The Lenten observance began as a time of purification and preparation. In the early church, baptism was only performed on Holy Saturday. An entire year’s worth of converts to the faith would be baptized and brought into the church on that day. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ’s church.
As years went by, the church began to baptize people on most Sundays. Lent was no longer a time of preparation for these events, but it remained as a special time of prayer and fasting. People were encouraged to give up something they enjoyed during Lent.
Here are some suggestions of what you might give up for Lent — A God Tap
* Give up grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Constructive criticism is all right, but “moaning, groaning, and complaining” are not Christian virtues.
* Give up 10 to 15 minutes staring at your smart phone. Instead, use that time to pray, read the Bible, and reflect on your life.
* Give up looking at other people’s worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
* Give up speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at whatever door you walk through.
* Give up your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
* Give up your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about, like tomorrow! Live today and let God’s grace be sufficient.
* Give up TV or staring at a computer screen one evening a week! Instead, call or visit someone who is lonely or sick. There are people you know who are isolated by illness or age. Give someone a precious gift — your time!
* Give up buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to those who are in need. The money you would spend on non-essentials could help others meet their basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God’s riches, not consumers.
* Give up judging by appearances and by the standards of the world! Instead, learn to give yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ.
Lent is still the church season in which we prepare for Easter Sunday. It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Remember the admonition of the Gospel lesson to do it right — “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ … your piety… before others, to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1)
This is not show time! Lent is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. Most of all, it is a time to ready ourselves for the sheer joy of Easter morning — it is a time to ready ourselves to meet our risen Lord once again in this world and forever in the next world.
Inspired by the words of David Leininger