What do you think? Is it easier to give something up or start something up? What about giving up doing too many good things along with the bad? That’s the question for today. Ash Wednesday is here again with the somber imposition of ashes and the words intoned, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent begins 40 days of us taking a long look at our lives. Hence the name Lent. It is a derivative of the Old English word lencten a counterpart to our modern word lengthen. The days get longer during this season and so should our introspection and faithfulness to spiritual disciplines.
Before I wax on about what we should give up, I’m wondering if this Lenten season we might ask ourselves, “What do I need to do that I haven’t been doing?” As profound as Pope Benedict giving up his office, it is more striking that he is doing it so that he can better take up a life of prayer. It hits me that giving up something for Lent trivializes the deeper sacrifice and greater energy that it would take for most to start doing something.
That’s something to ponder for sure! To use Lenten season to help others, pray for a specified period of time; to give at least 5 hours a week to a local soup kitchen, to walk around the building every day and offer greetings to each individual – these are all tantalizing prospects, even fun sounding.
But my problem isn’t in the doing. It is in the overdoing. The tools of evil are many and myriad! Temptation sometimes slaps us in the back of the head. Often it hits us head-on between the eyes. Evil works best on me when it sneaks up on me with the silken snare of doing good deeds. I know that sounds odd to many of you. However, I am just as sure that the stress of having too many good things to do is killing you, too. Few people know how to say “No!” enough.
We end up overworked and overwrought by the tyranny of the urgent. We can’t not answer our cell phones; reply to a text, check Facebook, or go, go, go… do all the urgent things. Pacing ourselves seems impossible. Ordinary maintenance of our bodies, spirits, or minds, much less our homes and families, gets pushed farther and farther from the front-burner of our existences. The squeaky wheels of life sidetrack what is most important. You know what I mean: “The squeaky wheels always get the grease.” What or who are the squeaky wheels in your life?
A regular maintenance schedule keeps the car from squeaking and out of the shop. Likewise, Lent reminds us that the same goes for our spirit. Neglect of the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, fasting, Bible study, and fellowship diminish us to the point of breaking. Doing too many good things often keeps us from putting the best things first.
Neglect, therefore, is one of the greatest tools of evil. Listen to the following and ponder: “I have never been guilty of wrong actions, but on my account lives have been lost, ships have been sunk, cities have burned, governments have failed, battles have been lost, and a few churches have closed their doors.
“I have never struck a blow nor spoken an unkind word, but because of me homes have been broken, friendships have grown cold, laughter of children has ceased, wives have shed bitter tears, brothers and sisters have been forgotten and parents have gone brokenhearted to the grave.
“I have tended no evil, but because of me talents have come to naught, courtesy and kindnesses have failed and the promise of success as well as happiness has yielded sorrow and disaster.
“I have no sound, just silence. No cause for being myself. I have no offering to make except grief and sorrow. You may not in an instant call me by my name, but surely you are personally acquainted with me.
“My name? … NEGLECT!”
This Lenten season I hope that we don’t neglect what or Who is most important. However, some things are better left undone if by their doing you or God’s work are undone! This Lent, who and what are we not going to neglect, and what good, but not best things, are we going to purposefully neglect? Ah, these are the questions that make for a very helpful Lenten discipline. To say, “Yes!” to some things, and “No!” to some things. Which will it be for God’s glory?