Lent: Not Just Giving Things Up, But Doing Things Differently

When I was in elementary school, there was a lot of emphasis on “what are you going to give up for Lent?”. I would give up candy or sweets and then have a heyday come Easter Sunday when my basket arrived from the bunny. When I attended Marist, the priests and my religion teachers took it a step further, and challenged us to do something meaningful on a daily basis as our Lenten challenge (more prayer, silent, humble acts of service, etc.). Now that I am an adult (when did that happen?), I am always looking for the best thing to do during Lent that will help me to grow closer to God. And I struggle with this every Lent. I start out with the best of intentions, and then fall down on the job.

Last week my parish hosted a Reconciliation service. I waited in line with my memo card of transgressions waiting to see the priest. After I left, it was very clear what I needed to give up this year for Lent – unforgiveness. And not just give it up for Lent, but work on giving it up for good. When I am not forgiving, I am definitely not being the person who God is calling me to be. Unforgiveness hurts me far more than the person with whom I’m struggling. This thoughtful, old retired priest suggested, “Who are we to judge? Leave that to God. We cannot see into another’s soul. We must forgive as we have been forgiven.”

Allen Hunt had just finished a great talk about forgiveness, which he called the most powerful word in the English language. He said that Jesus’ heart is to love first, and forgive first. However, for those of us who are mere humans, that can be a tough road. So what was the suggestion of this elderly priest, this man of faith? He said I must pray for this person daily – pray for their well-being, their happiness, their wholeness. He said as I pray for them daily, my heart will be softened and more open to forgiveness.

This makes sense, because as my aunt likes to point out, we all have a bit of a “bitter bank.” Something bad happens between you and someone you care about, and you make a deposit into that bitter bank. And then another, and then another. Month after month, year after year. And then one day, you make a withdrawal – maybe on purpose, or maybe some conversation or action brings you to the brink and the withdrawal comes out in very big bills. The withdrawal can be a snarky retort or a full-on shouting match. Either way, it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t what God wants for our relationships.

So I went to my bookshelves of “books I should read when I have more time” and pulled out Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody by the aforementioned Allen Hunt. Here’s what I found:

“Do you want forgiveness? Know that the more you forgive, the more forgiveness you will receive. The more you live a lifestyle of forgiving others, the less you yourself will be affected by bitterness, grudges and resentment. The more you give, the more you get. When you clench your fists, fold your arms, and grit your teeth in anger or hatred toward someone, you have no room in your heart for God to place His hand in yours. Replace your clenched fist with an open hand and watch as God fills your soul to overflowing.”

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  – Colossians 3:13-14

Have a blessed (and forgiving) week and enjoy your spring break!

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