Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lenten Discipline

Today's lenten devotional from Henri J. M. Nouwen:

"Discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God--a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledge and responded to."

The practice of giving up things for Lent has become something of a fad in the evangelical church. We give up chocolate, give up TV, facebook, whatever modern convenience or minor vice that you can live without, and say that it is given up for God. But is saying no to your daily doughnut helping your spirit, or merely your body?

Yes, body, soul, and spirit are all part of your being, and should be cared for and disciplined equally. But it is too easy to give up a little something and miss the entire point of Lent. Lent is supposed to be about repentance, cleansing, and identification with suffering. It is also a time where we put aside worldly things so that we can focus on spiritual things. Giving up physical things like food is supposed to point us back to Christ and the cross, to His time in the desert, his struggle in the garden. Whatever it is that we give up, we are supposed to use it as a way to bring us into prayer and repentance. It is only a season, but it should be a season that changes us and causes us to grow for the long-term.

I'm giving up a lot for Lent--in my diet, my spending, my habits. It's been quite awhile since I did anything more than give up chocolate or some other small thing. I've chosen to go with a very strict Lenten discipline this year because in my crazy overpacked schedule I feel I have lost the discipline that makes time for God. I used to be a much more disciplined person, but lately the ups and downs of life have pulled me away from that. I turn to food as a way to deal with emotions, I don't get enough rest, I obsess over how I am perceived by others. I get tired and emotional and don't turn to God for my joy and contentment. These are things I need to repent from.

I also tend to say yes to everything, to always be the first (and last) one at the party or on the list to help. While my motivations are usually good, this habit can be just as bad for my spiritual health. For me, this Lent is a time to remind my Martha self that in my desire to serve the people of Christ, I mustn't miss out on the most important thing: Christ Himself.

My mom told me a long time ago that when you are fasting, every time you find yourself desiring the thing you are fasting from is an opportunity to pray. So in saying no to a few things, I hope to be reminding myself to always be making a place for God to speak into my life, and I hope that this discipline will be something that continues long after I start saying yes to chocolate again.

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