“Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people.”
The verse above comes from a reading in the Daily Lectionary for today (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p.1144). It recalls Moses speaking to the whole people of Israel concerning their actions during the 40 years they spent in the wilderness. It occurred to me as I read the text that this verse can help us as we make the transition from the Epiphany season to the season of Lent that starts this coming Wednesday, March 3.
Lent has become an especially troubling season for me in this chapter of my life. Traditionally, Lent has been described, as we say in our Ash Wednesday liturgy as, “the discipline of Lent – self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love – strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament.” So, we have often portrayed Lent as a somber time of self-denial with a focus on “what are you going to ‘give up’ for Lent?” This is becoming less helpful to me as some of the traditional practices of Lent have become less a part of our Lenten observances. There are many faithful Christians who may not have had or have taken the opportunities to go on the journey of Lent by attending special mid-week services or observing any special faith practices during Lent.
So, what alternatives do we have for observing Lent this year? As I read the verse above, one came to mind.
The basic meaning I took from the verse above is this: it’s so easy for you and me to go on living our lives thinking that we are really better than we are, and so we don’t need God’s help (except when something really terrible happens that we can’t solve it by ourselves). In the case above, Israel kept thinking it could solve all its own problems—and kept getting into more trouble—they were a “stubborn people.”
An image comes to mind that I think fits here—looking ourselves in the mirror. As I researched this phrase, I discovered it had several nuances. Here’s the one I’m using here. “Looking ourselves in the mirror” means taking a good look at ourselves (in a real) mirror and asking if we are living our deepest faith and life values. When I do that, I often find myself having to admit to God and myself that I am not always living up to my deepest faith and life values (confession time, I guess). Sometimes, if I take time to do that when I have an important choice to make, I recognize more clearly, with God’s help, what I need to do!
So, here’s one way to approach Lent this year. It can be a ‘mirror’ opportunity for you and me. It is an active approach (rather than “giving up something”). Here are three simple suggestions on how we might do that.
First, take a time to stand or sit in front of a mirror, looking ourselves in the eyes, ask ourselves, “how am I doing living my deepest faith and life values?” Which ones am I living well? With which ones am I not doing so well? Which of these do I need/want to live better in this time of my life? Is there one value that I would, with God’s help, like to give my attention so as to live better in the next 40 days or so (the season of Lent)? Take time to write your ponderings down in a place where you can refer to and reflect on them in the coming weeks.
Second, with God’s help, based on your choice above, decide on some ways that you are going to do what you have chosen to do. Write these down so that you can come back and see them—making changes as you go along if you discover you need to do so. Look yourself in the mirror again and envision how you might see yourself there if, with God’s help, you make some progress in the way you are living.
Third, and finally, find someone who will sit with you and engage in a conversation about Lent, its meaning, how it touches their life (if it does), what you are doing, and, if they know you and you feel some trust in your relationship, ask their input into your ‘mirror’ practice for Lent. They may see you differently than you see yourself and offer some observations and encouragement in this Lenten experience. If the timing is right, this person may even be a person you can check back with and share adventures and observations through this time.
There are certainly other activities you could do based on this mirror opportunity—these are meant to get you started.
Gracious God, you see us truly as we are, always in need of your love, forgiveness, and help. In the coming Lenten season, help us to find ways to “look ourselves in the mirror” each day and see there a person whom you love and want to help and guide in all her/his ways of living. Keep us mindful that each person we encounter every day is a person you love and desire to help. Amen