It started one Lenten season when people start talking about purging something bad from their lives, the way Good Christians do when that season comes. Everyone talks about what they are giving up; listeners ooh and ahh about the willpower and holiness exhibited, and mutual admiration flits about the room and everybody’s halo gets bigger and brighter.
It’s so much pressure.
I had never successfully given up anything for Lent before. All my efforts at fasting revolved around giving up things that I didn’t do anyway, like robbing banks. I always found a way to replace the given up thing with something else, like the one time I gave up drinking wine and I drank vodka instead.
Missing the whole point of Lent was my specialty.
I heard the conversations about what Lent was all about, to reach out to God when you feel weak during a fast, to pray and pray and pray when you decide to abstain from pizza and your show up to a dinner party and the host is serving pizza.
At some point I heard that giving up something for Lent isn’t worth much if we only give it up for six weeks. If we give up pizza for 40 days and have a pizza party on day 41, how strong is our faith? It’s only been tested for 40 days. Have we really grown, or changed anything about our lives?
This, along with the fact that I had thus far proven to be a failure at giving anything up for 40 days, bothered me. Lent felt like a religion contest, and I’m not interested in that kind of competition. I already felt like enough of a hypocrite when I reflected on my sins. Imagine how relieved I felt when the conversation veered off into a direction that I had never considered: How about adding something to our lives for 40 days?
This interested me. I am much better at adding something good than taking something bad away, especially if I thoroughly enjoy it, and if I could make it a thing that strengthened my faith, then I would be much better off anyway. If I added something that might take away from the time I spent doing something bad, then I was on my way to better living overall.
I decided to read a daily devotional, write about it, and make this a part of my morning routine. It was doable: I am a morning person anyway, so starting off the day reading something uplifting with coffee sounded like the perfect thing. That it was simple, quick, and could be faith-building added to the appeal. So one Sunday after church I grabbed a daily devotional book off the information shelf, bought a composition book at the drugstore, and planned to start the following day.
I loved it. It was so simple, so quick, so faith-building, that I kept going.
That was three years ago, and I never gave up this Lenten practice. Yes, I skip days. Sometimes a week here and there. But I always go back to it.
It is not a perfect practice. I am not perfect, and do not deserve a pat on the back. Sometimes I find myself growing bored with my insights to God’s word, zipping through the devotional time just to get it over with. I am nothing if not task-oriented.
But I keep going, because the times when I really learn something new about God and faith are worth it. The frequency with which the reading contains a theme that I so need to hear amazes me.
I am not planning on ending this Lenten add-on anytime soon. It still works for me; it has become part of my life and my faith.
Plus, the pressure of Lent is no longer there. My halo is far from the biggest or the brightest, but I feel okay about working on it all year long instead of just 40 days.