When I was growing up lent wasn’t really a thing.
Even though I went to church from the age of nine I don’t really remember anyone talking about it.
Pancake Day was a thing. Easter was a thing – mostly because of the eggs but lent didn’t impinge on my consciousness.
In this secular age there’s still an awareness of lent as a time to give things up. There seems to be a general sense that that’s a good idea. It’s a bit like New Year’s resolutions but lent can come across as a fundamentally negative thing – a time of (probably failed) self-denial.
My church is pretty non-traditional. We start with an Ash Wednesday service, another thing that wasn’t a thing for me growing up – where we are marked with a sign of the cross as we start a time of reflection leading up to Easter.
It’s usual in our church to think of lent as a time where we think of where we take things up as well as give them up. I try and prayer more so this year I told people I was doing this for lent and put a prayer box in the kitchen where people could leave prayer requests. This has led to some really positive responses and I hope shows that faith can mean something in the ordinariness of day to day life.
It’s still the giving up stuff thing though that is actually having the biggest impact on me. I’ve sort of given up a couple of things but while I haven’t been completely disciplined it is helping me to do some rethinking.
I have mostly given up biscuits. Well I’m eating a lot less. Specifically I haven’t bought any! My wife coming home from a French trip with some was most unhelpful.
I have also given up the BBC News and Sport apps. Honest. They are gone. This of course doesn’t mean I can’t access them via the BBC website. Which I do. But honestly less. It’s more of an effort so I need more of a reason, which makes me think twice.
There is a value in breaking habit. We do so many things on auto pilot. The biscuits are there – I eat them. My phone is there – I scroll through it for no particular purpose. Habits shape our lives – too many biscuits will shape my waistline in a bad way. Too much time on my phone, will mean I waste time and shorten my attention span.
The reality is that if we are dissatisfied with bits of our lives we need to look at what we do with what we have.
Time is a classic example. How often do we feel that we don’t have enough time but what do we spend our time doing? If I spend 30 minutes a day on news apps, that’s 3 and a half hours a week or to put it another way a whole week out of the year! Now I’m not going to stop checking the West Ham score on a Saturday and seeing if we actually still have a Prime Minister but seriously a week a year!
It’s good to stop and recognise our habits. It’s often healthy to try and break them but the best plan is to replace them with better ones.
The point of lent has dawned on me this year – it’s not about having less of whatever stuff we want to deal with – it’s about having more of God.
I started a new job in December. This was back in neighbourhood working, something I’d previously done for years. The difference was that this time I wasn’t responsible for one bit of Sheffield, I was responsible for all of it and across two teams, for thirty people. It has challenged and stretched me.
The other day I was reading Luke 6 in The Message translation when I came across a verse that I’ve kept going back to since. In it, Jesus said:
But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get. (Luke 6:24)
It absolutely stopped me in my tracks to think that at any point where I think I’m able to manage by myself that’s all I’ll have. I won’t have more of God. I won’t have his peace. I won’t have his strength. I won’t have his wisdom.
That’s the point – God always has more. Our problem is that all too often we settle for what we have, for what is comfortable and familiar. We settle for our habits and we reap what we sow.
In his grace, God tries to get our attention to show us he has a better way. Lent is one way he does this so this lent remember – it’s not about you having less, it’s about having more of him. And don’t bring the biscuits round till Easter.