“LENT IS LIKE A STIMULUS PACKAGE” suggested our priest in his Ash Wednesday homily.
I tried to wrap my understanding around that. Yes, LENT provides me with a 40 day stimulus toward a closer relationship with God. I have a set period of time to make a new start—to work on areas in which I have grown lax. I can examine my conscience and take a hard look at my spiritual progress or lack of it.
LENT is a time for me to pull back out from under the bed the things that I have shoved “out of sight, out of mind,” which I think the world can’t see. It is a time to confess, to “come clean” about how I got myself into some mess, like the financial CEOs have had to do, and I must have a firm desire for amendment. God always offers His loving and ultra-generous “rescue package” when I come to Him with a humble and contrite heart.
LENT can be a “bail out” time for me to empty my leaky boat of all the dirty water that has seeped into it during the rough and tumble workaday routine of my life and set it spiritually afloat again.
Reminded of the brevity of life and its inevitable termination by the ashes on my forehead and the pronouncement “Remember, man, you are dust, and to dust you will return,” LENT is a time to take inventory of my life spending habits. What are my priorities in view of the temporary nature of my limited days and years? LENT can become my “spending stimulus” as I am determined to spend more time in the presence of God listening to His voice, receiving His directions—perhaps not being so concerned about listing all my petitions and monopolize our conversation together. Have I been too busy to pull back and quietly sit and adore the Lord, to contemplate His holiness, His mercy, His love?
I tend to think about things that I should give up or sacrifice for LENT. There is a place for that, since most of us are far too attached to the world and things of the world, pursuing primarily what pleases us. Often, however, the things I think of giving up are trivial and I could well do without them anytime. Are they really worthy sacrifices or are they only trite, unfit tokens of my love for God? At one point in the life of David the king, when told he didn’t have to pay for a certain piece of land on which he planned to build an altar for the Lord, he refused the offer and said, “Shall I offer to God that which cost me nothing?” Do I sacrifice to the Lord that which costs me nothing?
Should I not rather concentrate on forming positive spiritual habits that I can continue after the 40 days of LENT are over? Some of the habits and “the sins that so easily beset us” may also have to do with the discipline of my body. God is not only interested in my soul’s welfare; my body is important to Him because He created it and, as the apostle Paul reminds me, my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And again, “Now brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) LENT is a time to shape up both spiritually and as concerns my body and its disciplines. I must be careful about my motivation, however,—I shouldn’t engage in fasting with the objective of a diet to lose weight! If there is a fringe benefit, so be it, but the aim is for my spiritual benefit.
What each of us commits himself or herself to do during LENT is ultimately a private matter between himself and God. We may share our “list” with others to help in our accountability or to encourage one another. Or not. Jesus’ spiritual direction about such things is clearly spelled out in Matthew 6 with cautions against blowing trumpets and looking gloomy and telling the whole street when “performing righteous deeds.” If I do, not only may I be prideful, but I am in danger of not receiving my reward from my Heavenly Father. Only when He sees in secret, does He promise repayment!