Wednesday, March 05, 2014

It's Ash Wednesday...

For the past fifteen years or so, on this day, I have begun a series of readings or prayers or actions or stoppage of actions "for Lent." In past years, I have given up candy, coffee, dessert, certain activities, and certain television shows. Often I have shared with others what I have given up and taken on, usually because I wanted to get their support and but partly to gain their admiration.

This morning, while listening to Rezandovoy, I was reminded of the challenging words of Jesus taken from Matther chapter 6. Jesus, the one whose life, death, and resurrection are the reason for Lent, told his disciples,
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites , for they love to pray standing in the synagoges and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father who is unseen; and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

As I listened to today's prayers, I was confronted with a question about this very topic: do I do this, do I share my Lent-related decisions and activities with others in order to be applauded and adored by them? Do I want to live this Lent in order to draw closer to God and move deeper into my walk of faith? Or do I want to receive some kind of external, visible and tangible reward for all of this?

Does my desire to publish or share a list of what I'm going to do and not do for Lent come from a yearning to impress people and get their attention or from a yearning to engage the Gospel story more fully and in greater depth? Truthfully, I would probably get more blog readers if I made a promise to write a post every day or carry out some random act of kindness or give something away or serve the homeless everyday of Lent. All of those are good things to do and fine things to have done at the end of these 40 days. But if I tell everybody ahead of time, who am I doing it for? If I keep a daily and public record of all that I do during Lent, whose attention and praise am I seeking? What reward will I receive? I have to wonder - am I doing this for a reward?

If doing stuff to be seen by others is the mark of a hypocrite, then I am guilty of being a hypocrite. I cannot and will not deny that I do a lot of what I do to be seen by men and women and children. For example, every time I sit down to write a blog post, I think about some of the people that I imagine are reading it. "What will she think? What will he think? Am I being too blatantly religious? Am I not being religious enough? What does "being religious" even mean in this context? It's my blog; I can write whatever I want... but still - what if ______________ reads this post? Will she think I've lost my mind and become a fundamentalist? Will Pastor __________ think I have lost my mind and become a liberal? Will they think I'm not serious enough or dedicated enough?" I sometimes get so completely bogged down in what other people will think of me that I write nothing at all and watch the days slip by silently as I talk myself out of sharing what is on my heart.

This Lent, I plam to spend less time worrying about what people think of me and more time wondering what God thinks of me and I think of God. I plan to worry less about being the recipient of admiration, attention, rewards and readership from the outside in order to be more aware of and receptive to the voice of the Spirit of God on the inside.

What am I giving up for Lent this year? My habit of talking about what I'm giving up for Lent.

Lord, please help me to remember that all of this - Ash Wednesday, the many weeks of Lent, and the triumph that is Easter -  is about you, your love, your life, your death, and most importantly, your resurrection from the dead. Please stop me before I do or say or write anything that makes a mockery of your love or makes it more about me than about you. Thank you for the reminder that sometimes keeping things a secret is the best thing I can do. Thank you for the challenge of these words and the challenge of living a life that pleases and honors you, not only during Lent but all life long.

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