Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Launching Lent

There are many holidays written on the calendar that I've never observed, nor necessarily known what they signify. Ash Wednesday is one of those. I've grown up in different churches, but oddly enough, never in one that celebrated the season of Lent. This year, due in part to my own desire and in part to my Catholic boyfriend, things are changing.

I never knew, for instance, that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days leading up to Easter. It's rather embarrassing to admit that ignorance, but I suppose it shouldn't be considering I'm not advertising myself as a religious know-it-all. There are entire sections of church culture that I know nothing, or very little, about. It makes the learning process that much more wondrous.

I looked up the history of Ash Wednesday (and honestly skimmed through all the names and dates) to get a feel for the day. I learned that Christians have ashes traced on their foreheads in the shape of a cross, to signify humility and repentance, the need for salvation, and faith in the cross of Christ to meet that need for us all. What an appropriate way to begin the journey through Lent to Easter. I have been regretful each year for quite some time when Easter arrives and passes in the blink of an eye. I never actually prepare my heart for it, no more than several days or a week in advance, and therefore it passes through my heart and mind much too quickly, without digesting its significance. I feel anticipation growing as Easter approaches this year, because this year I'm going to be ready.

I've been thinking and praying a bit about what I want to do for Lent - what I want to give up or possibly add - to set my heart on God.

Today I picked up my Bible and read the story where Jesus is at the temple, teaching His disciples, watching people come forward and give their offerings. I can picture them standing off in the sidelines, unobtrusively people-watching. God only knows how long they watched and how many people they saw, because the story is short and to the point. Jesus points out the wealthy people giving their big donations then turns their attention to the impoverished widow as she releases her few coins to God. What He says in response is astonishingly opposite of how most of us think: "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than you all; for all these out of their abundance have put in their offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had" (Luke 21:3-4).

When I read those words today, with Lent in mind, they traveled to my heart like an electric current. I have been thinking of what to give God out of my abundance. Let's be real here, most if not all of the things I could give up for a season come out of my abundance rather than a state of poverty. I pictured myself giving things I love up for a season and saw myself as one of those wealthy people. But I want to be like the widow. I want my offering to be my livelihood, not a small percentage of my wealth. I confess I don't know exactly what that would look like for me in this season, but it's something to fix my heart on.

Is my offering truly a sacrifice, or is it merely the leftovers of a slight inconvenience? I know, logistically speaking, that God cares a great deal more for what is in our hearts than the monetary value of our gift or sacrifices to Him, so my heart is a good place to start.

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