Prayer, Fasting, and Alms Giving…Repentance, Rest, and New Life — What Lent Offers and Why

By now, many Christians are full-swing into Lent. They’ve chosen which vice they can live without for 46 days, they’ve marked their forehead with ashes, remembering that they are made of dust, and they may have even buried the Alleluia. But like a woman on a detox of maple syrup, lemon, and cayenne pepper, withdrawal is about to set in — if it hasn’t already — and the tough questions are about to hit impact.

“Why did I give up (choice item) again?”

“Am I just persisting in works righteousness?”

“What value does this have anyway?”

I sigh because these questions/temptations/excuses have been all too prevalent in my own life, and I know how many times I’ve caved. I didn’t really understand what Lent was offering, and so, in the face of ending sacrifice, I chose to relieve the pain.

But Lent is a picture of what this whole life could be. Walking this road of self-denial, selflessness, simplicity, and structure could give us a tangible experience of the abundant life that Jesus talked about in John 10:10. Because once we’ve lived something, and it’s brought about enlightenment and deeper relationship, chances are, we’re going to want to do it again.

That is what Lent offers — a full body experience of walking with the Divine. While that’s supposed to be what Christianity is about anyway, the knowledge that we only need to do it for five or six weeks makes it a little more tangible. A little more acceptable for our commitment cautious selves.

So how do you “do” lent? How do you participate and have Lent bring about fullness and life, instead of dread and shame? You submit yourself to Lent like you’d submit yourself to any journey: planning rest stops along the way, and knowing which towns you’re going to pass through and when. In other words: you pick a plan and follow it.

For some of you, that may mean picking a daily devotional. For others, that may mean that you break apart each week, focusing on one particular piece of lent. For the more social, outgoing members of our tribe, that may mean that you commit to attending a soup kitchen or fish fry every week, so that you both have something to look forward to and something to remind you of where you’re walking and why. If just thinking about planning that all makes you feel overwhelmed, I have some suggestions for these options given at the bottom of this blog.

We commit ourselves to this process because Lent reminds us that there’s something better than what we’re currently experiencing, but it’s going to take us letting go of whatever we’re clinging to in order to obtain it. We’re going to have to stop picking and choosing spiritual disciplines, and instead, come under the whole experience of what it means to lay down our lives and gain the whole world.

May you, who are rooted and established in love, yield to this process, and find life waiting at the end.

Love,

Pam

Lent Suggestions:

Video: 

Immanuel Anglican Church created this video for reflection to go along with their sermon series, Deliver Us. It’s unique and powerful.

https://vimeo.com/119393462

Daily Devotionals

http://Shereadstruth.com

Biola University’s Daily Devotionals:  http://ccca.biola.edu/lent/#

Dynamic Catholic’s Best Lent Ever: http://dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/

This page has the a quote and three of the liturgy of the hours prayers listed: http://www.universalis.com/today.htm

Weekly Focuses

I will be writing on Prayer, Fasting, Alms Giving, Repentance, Rest and New Life every week until Easter. I already wrote the prayer post in the past couple of days. You can find it here.

Jerusalem Greer has a great week by week journey through lent that even works with kids. You can find the start of those blog posts here.

Andrew Arndt has become one of my favorite pastors and blog writers on Christianity. His first week reflection about lent, can be found here.

Soup Kitchens and Fish Frys

I live in Chicago, so I only know Chicago options, but after a quick search, I’m sure would yield some results. On the Northwest side of Chicago, St. James Church in Arlington Heights holds a Soup Kitchen. On the south side, St. Gerald church in Oak Lawn also does (have a conversation with Fr. Malcolm. You may just love him.) St. Germaine and St. Christina have some legendary fish frys. I’m sure there are many more, but you write what you know.

Other recommendations:

Rachel Held Evans writes “40 Ideas for Lent” every year. You can find this year’s post at: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/40-ideas-for-lent-2015

***I realize that this list of suggestions is very one-sided, but it doesn’t have to stay that way! These are my favorites because they are friends or friends-of-friends and I know their personal character (which is why I can recommend them.) But if you have suggestions, please comment below and help us all.

A Prelude to Lent: How to Not Avoid Pain

I never understood why they did it. As a child, they would march our whole grammar school, Kindergarteners and all, into the church for Ash Wednesday. They would have us pray together, and then stand us in single-file lines as they individually spread ashes on each of our foreheads.

“Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return,” they would say. The words almost being rubbed into my soul as much as the ashes on my skin.

That opening of the lenten season would close for us on Good Friday, as we would endure the silence of the Stations of the Cross together. I never knew why they would have children participate in such a solemn, sorrowful acts.

Now I know.

Those corporate prayers of repentance may have seemed lofty and burdensome as a child. But now, they seem strangely comforting. They gave words and movements to thoughts and ideas about a grief that seemed too much to understand: Our Savior was murdered. We murdered him. And we continue in our violence every day, in every generation. In our pain, and in our sorrow, and in our frustration of this life, we do not keep it together. We steal. We kill. We destroy.

And yet, Lent proclaimed that our sin is not the end of the story. That even our recklessness could be reduced to dust. And even more, in our broken state, God would show us a way to make it through together: Him locked into us, and us locked into one another.

For the people I grew up with, that meant community. It meant soup kitchens on Friday evenings in church basements. It meant special blessings over Easter baskets (hoping that as our food was sanctified, so we too could be sanctified). It meant adoration and benediction — that is, concentrated time on our knees, talking to Jesus, looking at Jesus, and asking for Oneness. But above all else, It meant we needed God and we needed each other.

Lent, more than any time of the year, calls out for this truth. It invites us to be vulnerable with one another, to share our sorrow and our sin, and to hope for a better day.

From breaking open paczkis or cutting into a King cake together, to Friday night fish frys, to refrains of “Were You There,” Lent is all about feeling the pain and then sharing the load. It’s about grieving with those who grieve. It’s about being drenched in our humanity, and finding that it doesn’t break us.

May you dive deep into your humanity this lent, and find that your soul won’t be swallowed whole.

Love,

Pam

Why Should I Pray When It Doesn’t Matter?

A friend of mine has a child with severe food allergies. After a number of emergency room visits, filled with breathless worry and too many needles, she prayed to God to heal her son.

“I have,” she heard.

And yet, after many more visits to the hospital, that seems absurd to believe.

Four years ago, my mom prayed the same thing for me. “Lord, please heal my daughter of MS.” She heard the same, “I already have.” And yet, my daily dose of cocktails to combat this nasty disease goes on.

There are studies that prove that prayer is worthless, dangerous even. In one discouraging study, the participants that were prayed for had an even WORSE recovery rate than those not being prayed for. (They think it may be because these patients had the additional stress to try and get better, making it seem like a miracle had indeed happened instead of random chance.)

So why pray?

As someone who has a severe illness, a child with food allergies, and two special needs kids, I’m a strong advocate for prayer. But I’m rarely on my knees looking for miracles. I don’t ask for healing, or for my kids to be changed. I understand why people ask for those things, but that seems, somehow, “less-than” compared to the reality that there’s something more that I can ask for.

Prayer, for me, is walking with a partner. It’s being heard, and having someone to hold me up. It’s a steadying power, when, left to my own devices, I’m going to be swallowed whole by worry, fear, control, and circumstance. It’s about connecting to a source of power that’s on the other side of what I can see. And yes, then, it’s also about being able to talk about the process of the in-between: the promised, but not yet.

But prayer really is, first and foremost, about this connection. The connection allows me to make a decision. To chose to let go of worry. To choose not to be a control freak. To trust the doctors with my body. To resist comfort and build character.

And in the process of making and walking out that choice, God stays. And a love and trust is built with a Friend that I believe I will spend eternity with.

Prayer becomes about that. It becomes about Us. About what we have together.

So if you pray for me, pray for that. Pray that I’ll remember that my God is a God who’s all about being here. Because that’s what I’ll be praying for you, too.

Love,

Pam