Lent: A Longer Look

We have heard it said that confession is good for the soul. Maybe so, but what if your declaration of guilt causes things to go from bad to worse? Picture yourself on a beach where there are hundreds of people and you happen to notice that some of the people are quite attractive. Would it be productive to go confess to someone that you’ve been ogling them? I dare say it would probably get you into more trouble. Lenten season is a time for confession that leads to new life, not worse life. Lenten sacrifice is to keep us out of trouble and not cause more. Of course, there are those times when we MUST confess our sins however painful that may be. To tell or not to tell takes a lot of discernment.

That’s one of the reasons why we call the 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) Lent. The word Lent comes from lencten, an Old English word from which we derive the word lengthen. Lent’s purpose is to cause us to take a long look at ourselves, our motivations and our actions. Lenten season comes when the days begin to lengthen. So should our spiritual introspection. How serious do we take sin? To confess or not? I daresay that I remember a joke about telling it all and someone replying, “I don’t believe I would have told that!” How much should we own up to people? What do we just tell God? I’m afraid there’s no one right answer. It depends, doesn’t it?  But this is what Lent is for: It makes me seriously ponder the meaning and effects of sin.

One of the Holy Spirit’s tasks is to convict us of sin. Scripture also says that the only “unpardonable sin” is the sin against the Holy Spirit, whatever that means. The “unpardonable sin,” being largely undefined, actually keeps me more honest. Someone once told me if I ever worried about whether I had commited it then I most assuredly hadn’t. Those who have commited it are so cold to the Holy Spirit they don’t even notice. If your conscience still bothers you then there’s hope! A wise American Indian elder put it this way: “The Holy Spirit is like a pointy diamond-shaped object in a Christian’s heart. Whenever he or she does something wrong, the diamond turns and it hurts. If we keep doing things wrong over and over again the diamond wears down our insides and after awhile it doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s when we have committed the ‘unpardonable sin.'” An interesting thought whether true or not. No matter what, I know that we better take sin seriously. Spiritual half-measures will not produce good fruit.

Lent needs to be an all-in endeavor for it to make a real difference. Maybe you’ve heard of the conversation between a father and his 10-year-old son. It illustrates the problem of Lenten half-measures. The father was attempting to explain to his young son the necessity of giving something up for Lent. In fact, the father told the boy exactly what he should give up: candy. The boy questioned his Dad’s strictness and wondered what good it would do. To which the father replied, “It will improve your character. You’ll be a better person on Easter Sunday if you give up candy during Lent. After all, your mother and I have given up liquor for Lent.” The boy then said, “That’s funny Dad. I saw you and Mom having a drink before dinner last night.” The father replied, “That was wine, son. What we gave up was hard liquor.” The boy countered, “Oh, that’s good, then all I need to give up for Lent is hard candy.”

Half measured spirituality isn’t adequate any time of year and especially so during Lent. This season’s discipline is a clarion call to get past being half-Christian or “Almost Christian,” in John Wesley’s vernacular. There are things we need to give up, and some things we need to take up, especially the cross. A worthy observance of Lent means a a real change of life, the ending of one kind of life and the start of a Holy Spirit empowerd new one. What I mean can be summed up in the story of the man who thanked the preacher profusely after a worship service, “Reverend, Reverend, what you said today in your sermon was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you very, very much. It was so helpful. It revolutionized my life. Thank you, thank you!” The pastor was quite pleased that his words had helped so much, but he didn’t think the sermon was that great. He asked the man, “What exactly was it that helped so much?”

Without any hesitation the man answered, “Well, you began your sermon by saying that you wanted to talk to us about two things this morning, and then in the middle you said, ‘That completes the first part of what I wanted to tell you and now it’s time I moved on to the second part of my sermon.’ It was at that exact moment that I realized I had come to the end of the first part of my life, and it was high time that I got on to the second part. Thank you, Reverend,” he said as he left the church, “Thank you, very much.”

Hopefully this Lent will be a time for us to say, “Thanks be to God! Thanks for helping me let go of the past and start fresh.  Thanks for helping me stop unproductive destructive behaviors and thanks for helping me start a new life of forgiveness and possibility! Thanks for your Holy Spirit’s work in my life.” I pray this Lent will be the real deal for all of us this year!

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