"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return."
These words, spoken on Ash Wednesday as the priest smudges your forehead with ashes in the shape of the cross, are pretty sobering. In the Christian tradition, they mark the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season of reflection and self-examination.
Why begin with this grim reality? The words remind us that life is fleeting. That we have a limited amount of time to do right by God and our neighbor.
Spring Cleaning for the Soul
Because life is short, it's important to regularly do the hard work of looking within. Not so that we can beat ourselves up for not always hitting the mark, but so that we can make "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
A business that doesn't regularly assess which products are selling and which are not is bound for failure! They need to figure out what's hot and what's not so that they can get rid of the inventory that's not moving in order to make room for more of the stuff that is.
It's the same with our souls. We want to figure out what's holding us back from fully becoming the people that God intends us to be. And then we want to get rid of it. Why? So we can grow.
It is that time when we venture into the
dusty and dirty attics and garages of our souls and take inventory of both the good and the bad we find there.
What do we want to keep?
What do we want to get rid of?
It is spring cleaning for the soul!
Three Spiritual Practices That Will Help
In Matthew 6:1-24, Jesus highlights three spiritual practices that have historically been connected to the season of Lent.
Giving to the needy
My wife and I recently received mail from a local charity encouraging people to give during the Lenten season. The flyer encouraged us to set aside one item we no longer use each day for the 40 days of Lent. We will both be doing this, and I'm actually pretty excited about it! We've accumulated so much stuff over the years that I have actually begun to feel overwhelmed by clutter!
But regardless of how you give, it's important that you give.
This practice is a good reminder that we can sometimes become overly attached to things. More importantly, it's a good reminder that God's blessings are meant to be shared.
While people of faith are encouraged to pray daily, the Lenten season is a terrific time to spend extra time talking to our Maker. He yearns to show us both our assets and liabilities and help us become the people he knows we can be.
The important thing is to create space to commune with God and hear from him!
Find something that works for you and start praying!
This practice is probably the least practiced spiritual discipline among Christians! And yet, Jesus doesn't say, "If you fast," but, "When you fast."
Fasting is going without food or water for a certain amount of time. It is not something religious you do to get God's attention (you already have that). Actually, it's more about getting yourself into a state where you can hear from God more clearly.
If you've never fasted, you may want to start by skipping one meal one day each week.
But there are other kinds of fasts, too. For example, if you watch a lot of TV, you may want to cut back a bit during Lent so that you can spend more time with God in prayer. Or you may want to go on a social media fast. There are many different things you could abstain from during Lent. The purpose is not to punish yourself, but to create more space for God.
Wrapping Things Up
Whether you're a Christian or not, having a regularly scheduled time of self-inventory is beneficial. Life is short, and if you want to be all you can be, you need to peek under the hood from time to time.
If you are a Christian, this is a wonderful season to prepare your heart for the glory of Easter.
The following is “A Lenten Prayer” by Henri Nouwen.
The Lenten season begins. It is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.
I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.
I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me. Amen.
ResourcesBread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent by Aaron DamianiLent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen
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