16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The season of Lent is well known for it’s fasting, a time for giving up things to show our devotion to God. I also think about fasting not just as an act of devotion, but a reordering my life to be able to make room for God. If there are things that are a barrier, thoughts that are a hindrance, or actions that prevent me from living into the presence of the Holy, then it’s time to intentionally set those aside and away from me.
In our discipleship programs, we are discussing the three aspects of Lenten devotion: prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. This year for my Lenten fast, I’m going to engage in a practice that reflects each.
Prayer is how we deepen our relationship to God and our community. The best way I’ve deepened my spiritual life these past few months is by returning to the gospels and the prophets. For Lent, I’m reading through the book of Matthew. Reading the Bible reaffirms me of my call to be a presence of love in my community and reminds me that the ideals of compassion and justice are deeply a part of our faith. Scripture reorients my prayers beyond my concerns and needs, back into my world and community.
If you’d like to follow along with my schedule, here is a refrigerator or door printable of the Matthew Lent Devotion. Our thanks to the member of the UMC Ministry with Children Facebook Working group made this.
I’m giving away something every day. My instincts run toward holding on to things, whether it’s sentimental (I liked this sweater in the 7thgrade) or because I might need it in the future. These are things that I am not using, thereby keeping them away from other people’s potential use. Humanity’s collective prosperity gets tied up with our individual fears of letting go and the worries about what might need next.
What I’m giving away isn’t just in my clothing closet; these items are also in my pantry and storage closet. Do I really need to hold on to this box of brownies? Stop hesitating in sharing, Ruth, but recognize an opportunity to let go of the back-up supplies in my pantry and provide a treat for my community. Yes, this means that part of my Lenten fast is to bake and give away the brownies (I hope not too many people are giving up chocolate).
As for the fasting, I’m giving up a thought instead of an item; I’m giving up thinking that I don’t pray. Every time an “Ask the Pastor” Sunday comes around, someone will ask Pastor Peter and me how we make time for our spiritual lives. I hear this question and I try not to wince, because in those moments I wonder if what I’m doing is good enough to be considered spiritual grounding. I try not to get stuck in the muck of the “I shoulds,” “I should be better at setting time” or “As a pastor I should be a better example of what I’m doing.” These shoulds get in the way of recognizing the sheer volume of times I turn things over to God in prayer. I’ll be writing down the prayers that run through my head and share them.
Here are a few examples of the prayers so far:
- Holy God, as I tie these shoelaces I thank you for all the places I’ve journeyed. For those that I’ve met, protect them and give them comfort. For the places I will go next, guide me so that I may bring your love and peace with me.
- Forgive me, God as I turn on this combustion engine that will take me to my job. I know that I am tied-up in the sinful system of fossil-fuel consumption. Help me find ways to extricate myself from this economy so that we may be faithful stewards of your beloved creation.
- God of all Life, I give you thanks for these dishes that I am washing. Thank you for the ease of water coming from the faucet and for the food that I ate on these. May clean water and food be as easily available for all.
My Lenten fast will allow me to formalize my spiritual acts that I do regularly: read the Bible, be generous, and pray without ceasing. I’m grateful for the Christian community around me to engage in the opportunity to help me reorder my life so that I can focus on my relationship to God and God’s kingdom.