Lent, a time of giving up and taking on, of purifying and of growth. We might think of it as caring for our life as we do a lawn. Raking out the moss, digging up the dandelions, giving it some fertilizer, reseeding the bare patches.
Perhaps we might see it as a time for taking stock. Do we actually want our life our life to be like the traditional even, bright green, weed free lawn? Or is our ideal something more like a wild flower meadow? What if our ideas and aspirations have changed over the years but somehow we can’t quite get rid of the past? That flower bed we filled in years ago, that has been grassed over for many seasons, you’d think it would be gone by now but the contours still show through indicating where it used to be.
We can’t erase the past but Lent is a time for penitence, repentance and forgiveness; for coming to terms with a past that is no more but which still leaves it mark on the present. The enduring mark in the lawn may be annoying, an eyesore but we need to think differently about our lives, learning to embrace a forgiven past, realising that it has made us what we are today.
So what form will our spiritual lawn care take this year? There are Lent groups and various easy to access resources available to help but maybe the most important thing is simply to take a long hard look at our lives and ask ourselves some far-reaching questions. What is the aim or purpose of our life? What is it for? Imagine someone watching a documentary about your life as portrayed by an in depth commentary on everything you do, say or think for a particular day. Would that day give them the same idea about your life as your stated aims and purpose?
For instance, if someone’s main aim was to be a world class athlete, we would expect this to reflected in in the amount of time they spend practising and training. But it would seem inconsistent if they then spent the rest of their time slumped in front of the television eating junk food. That might suggest that their ambition is really no more than a daydream. And we might want to ask a lot more questions before we take them seriously. How do they spend their money? What do they read? What sort of conversations do they have?
Saint Paul used the idea of an athlete in training as an illustration of how seriously we should take things as Christians. As our society becomes more secular and more multi-cultural we need to think about what being a Christian actually means; it is no longer synonymous with being a good citizen. Plenty of good citizens have no desire or aim to be followers, disciples, of Jesus.
We can’t equate good or right ideas with Christianity and write off bad or wrong ones as unchristian any more. Maybe that was always too simplistic but we’ve pretty much got away with it for a very long time whilst the laws of the land and generally accepted mores of society were under-girded and informed by Christian teaching. Maybe having it so easy has made us lazy in our thinking. When being a law abiding and morally upright citizen meant that our lives automatically conformed more or less to Christian teaching then we didn’t need to think too much about what our faith demanded of us.
But life has changed. New things come along all the time and rather than simply accepting what the media, our friends or family say about them, we need to stop and consider whether they will enhance our life as a Christian or be a distraction.
The term Christian was first applied to a group of disciples in the early years of the church; to be a Christian means to be a disciple, one who keeps to a discipline, continuing to learn about Christ. It’s an ongoing business of getting to know God better, becoming more Christlike. The discipline of Christ is a joy, not a chore; Jesus came to bring abundant life, not to make things stuffy and boring. Remember how he scandalised the religious leaders of his day! And he is the one whose way we are learning to follow.
It is no accident that Lent falls in Spring. A time of new growth, fresh things springing up. A time of surprises, of discovering things we didn’t know were there. Take a look at your life the way you might look round the garden once the snow has gone and old dead stuff been cleared away. You might be surprised at what you find; what fresh shoots, opportunities, are waiting to be nurtured and trained.
Despite all this, it somehow doesn’t feel quite fitting to talk about wishing people a Happy Lent like we say Happy Christmas or Happy Easter. So I’ll make an exception to my general dislike of made-up words and wish you all a Growthful Lent.