"The purpose of Lent is...a preparation to rejoice in God's love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of God's mercy - a gift which we receive in so far as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy." ~thomas merton
i have always, since as far as i can remember, loved giving something up for Lent. now granted, i have come a long ways since my 3rd grade days, giving up eating cookies but only on wednesdays. i don't even think i ate cookies that much to begin with...and i probably ended up forgetting on accident anyways. but yet a seed was planted, and thus followed a slew of enjoyable things that i began to give up each year with more and more heart.
it's funny to me how many christians i hear griping about this aspect of Lent. it's as if giving up something is now passe; we should do something instead. now, of course, i have no problem with people showing their devotion to Christ in this way--Lord knows i need to increase my prayer time, give more money to those in need, and volunteer my time and love more often. faith in action is a beautiful, and necessary, thing. but there appears to be a battle these days amongst christians between personally fasting versus helping others. it's as if self-reflection, in the form of fasting for a season, is the lesser of the two; that we can only draw closer to God, and help others, by doing instead of being. the way i see it, i'm already quite skilled at distracting myself by doing things. what i'm avoiding, but yet so desperately need, is to face the reality of what needs to be worked on in my own heart.
granted, our attempts to do so are not always the most pure. clearly my younger cookie-less-wednesday self didn't fully grasp the heart behind giving something up for Lent. but with age and self awareness, i'd like to think i've progressed. maybe that's why Lent is my favorite time of year. it's a chance for progress. it's a chance to unveil just how selfish and single-minded i am and yet still give me a glimmer of hope, an anticipation that God's work in me is not yet finished.
i hesitate to say what exactly it is i am giving up for lent, but i think it might help people to understand the why behind it all. and who knows? perhaps by merely giving up something, by being without, i can give perspective to someone else, too.
make-up. that's right--Jeannie is going sans make-up for 40 awesomely Jesus-filled days. so far it's been...well...surprisingly uneventful. i remember on Ash wednesday thinking, 'well, i feel like...me. and i look like...me. interesting.' i don't know why i thought there would be this gremlin-like creature emerging from the mirror that entire day...that would have made for a much more thrilling story though.
God has really placed beauty on my heart the past year or so, especially in terms of how i, as a woman, view myself in light of creation and as a child of God. beauty is more than skin-deep, as we all know, but it is also very visible. at some point in my wrestling, i realized that i was relying on other things and people to validate my worth and beauty in the eyes of the Creator. this Lent season is a baby step for me to take, an action of not doing that will lead to more actions, actions of confidence, actions of love. and more concretely, it's forcing me to think about God and Her beauty given to me every time i begin to notice or think about the fact that i haven't made-up a face today. this step is necessary for me, as Merton says, so that i might open my heart to God, that i might see who i am and who i am being made to be. with each day, i cast out thoughts and actions that prevent me from receiving all God's love and mercy.
regardless of whether you are giving something up, actively doing, or perhaps both or neither, let us remember this--we are all works in progress. to ashes we will all return, but until that day we must continue to encourage one another in our attempts to open our hearts further to God. in the meantime, i'm rockin out what my maker gave me! and still eating cookies on wednesdays. =)