Friday, February 24, 2012

Sacrifice and Celebration

It’s fitting that it’s only now, for the first time in eons, that I’m able to make the time and the effort for a new blog post. This is the season of Lent, a season of discipline.

I grew up (and still am) Baptist, and Lent was not something we talked about or observed in my early years. It wasn’t until high school that I heard of the mysterious “Maundy Thursday.” I wasn’t part of a Good Friday Tenebrae service until about 5 years ago, while I was hospice chaplain and a member of Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship in Lexington, SC. By that time I was a seminary grad, and it was at my (interdenominational) seminary, Beeson Divinity School, that I first was asked by someone what I was giving up for Lent. Probably an Episcopalian. (I hadn’t planned to give up anything, thanks much.)

Sacrifice isn’t that popular an idea in our consumption-driven culture. Perhaps it’s that contrast that makes Lent intriguing to me. Or maybe it’s the appeal of the unfamiliar and new (to me; Lent is OLD), making Lent seem exotic and exciting. In theory, at least. In previous years, my attempts to give up something for Lent have generally been wildly unsuccessful. Me and discipline? Distant acquaintances, at best, and we don't really get along, to be honest.

This year, I’m trying something different. Two days in (38 to go), I’m doing well. It’s early yet, but I’m hopeful the excitement will last this time. Because I've finally understood that despite the common perception, Lent isn’t really about giving something up. The sacrifice is a means, not an end. We sacrifice a human good for a divine better.

I think Lent, like Advent, is really about preparation. We get ready to celebrate Easter (the resurrection of the One Who saved us from sin and death) by reflecting on our need for a Savior. We give up something important to us, that has a grip on us. We turn that time and energy from what we've given up and put that into the Kingdom of God instead.

So this Lenten season, I’m giving up buying meals when I’m alone. I’m a single guy who works many, often most, nights. And I’m really not a cook. So I buy most (75% or more, breakfast, lunch, and supper) of my meals from a restaurant – occasionally going and eating there, but more often (and more problematically) doing take out or fast food.

Giving this up is clearly in my own best interests, as are most of the “sacrifices” God asks from us. Eating out is more expensive and less healthy. By fixing meals at home, I’ll consume less empty calories, get more nutrients, and save money. Still, I tried this last year, and it was (as alluded to above) a spectacular failure. The personal benefits didn't outweigh the sheer inconvenience. Getting up earlier to fix meals? Fixing meals at the end of a work day? Blargh. Last time I tried this it just made me grumpy.

But this year, any day I’m unmotivated to cook, or inclined to cheat, I’m shifting focus. I'm going to figure out what meal I want and how much money it would cost me. Then I'm going to donate that amount.

I’m not sure where I’ll donate it to – there are lots of good possibilities. Maybe the Change This World fundraiser our youth are involved in for summer camp. It’s very likely to go to one of the five initiatives from the YouChoose video. Maybe it’ll go to a smaller, more local organization - the Food Pantry here at Westfield, Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, Union Mission in Roanoke Rapids.

The point is, each time I’m tempted to give in, I can do something positive instead. Ironically, the less tempted I feel, the less money I’ll raise. Conversely, the more money I give, the more tempted and flawed it’ll mean I am. :) But if anyone else wanted to join me by doing something similar in your life, so that we could celebrate together how God led us to take something unhealthy and turn it to something good - that would be cool to hear about from you folks!

Caveats and fine print: I can still eat out if invited by someone else. I don’t get to share a meal with someone else all that often, and doing so is a Good Thing. Also, one day a week is a day of celebration, when the Lenten restriction is relaxed. Hey, I didn't come up with this! But I am adapting it to my situation. Traditionally the day of celebration is Sunday, the day of worship. For the time being, I’m going to make it Thursday, my day off. This is part of trying to more closely observe Sabbath on my off-day – another Lenten discipline, actually.

So that’s the plan for Lent this year. How about you? How are you spending Lent? How are you preparing to celebrate the Savior?