Often, in these days before Easter, people talk about what they are giving up for Lent. They speak of things like sugar, chocolate, coffee drinks or social media. I've never participated in this practice, although I understand the meaning behind it. Every time I want that thing I have "given up," I remember what Christ gave up for me. I think of his suffering and pain. His death on the cross feels real as daily I die to what I really want but am choosing to abstain from, for a season. This year I have chosen to give up 40 things! Well, not all at the same time. Alicia Britt Chole, the author of the book, 40 Days of Decrease, encourages us to consider decreasing something daily to more fully enter into Christ and his journey toward the cross. She describes the book: "A life-engaging guide for communities and individuals, each day of 40 Days of Decrease features a devotional based upon Jesus' life, guidance for reflection, suggested (and occasionally surprising) daily fasts, an inspiring quote for prayerful meditation, an optional and somewhat academic sidebar chronicling the historical development, practices and images of Lent, and a suggested Scripture reading with journaling space."
For example, on Day Thirteen, we looked at the time Jesus came to Bethany for dinner in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. At this meal, Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. While we see this as a lovely thing to do for Jesus just before Passover, many thought she was being extravagant. This perfume could have been sold and given to the poor!
The author writes: "Why this waste? Because love does not calculate. What an honor: to be remembered as one who loved lavishly. Today, fast stinginess: seek an opportunity to be irrationally lavish toward someone who cannot possibly return the favor. Give because you love. Give without letting reason ration out your love in stingy portions."
I love this kind of challenge! Love lavishly. Give without expectation of return. Fast the desire to keep and hoard and protect stuff. Give extravegantly.
Today I was encouraged to fast from comparison. How often we are tempted to measure ourselves against someone else! The author writes: "Today, fast comparison. Cease determining the value of your reality by your perceptions of others' reality. Bless and pray specifically for those who appear "closer in." (They may be overwhelmed with sorrow.)
Other suggested fasts include: regrets, collecting praise, a tidy faith, speeding past sorrow, isolation, spectatorship, a meal, spiritual self-protection, apathy, appearances... there are so many! Forty of them! Each offers me an opportunity to dig deeper into my own heart as well into the scripture and Christ who is at the heart of each beautifully written chapter.
A passage from John with space for journaling, ends each chapter. The book divides John 12: 1 through John 21: 25 into 40 readable portions so that we can walk with Jesus to the cross and carefully reflect upon what happened. We are invited to enter the scripture with thoughtful reflection and fresh eyes.
As an excellent way to journey through Lent, I have found myself delighted in the challenge, the meaning of Greek words, the fresh way to look at a passage of scripture and much more. As always, I long for a deeper friendship with Christ, a more solid faith, a reverence so rich that it aches to be expressed. This book has led me well. Even outside of Lent, it would be an excellent way to focus 40 days of life. Closer to Jesus. More thoughtful. With a deeper desire to draw closer to the life of this Man of God.
What have you been doing to make Lent more meaningful this year? I'd love to hear about it.