Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Give it up for Lent

When you mention the word "Lent" to a random stranger off the street, if you get something more than a quizzical look, it will be, "So what are you giving up?" I usually try to take on a spiritual discipline rather than giving up something I like, but these usually last about as long as a New Year's Resolution.

Once again, this year, after a hiatus, I have decided to fast from harsh speech during Lent. You see, refraining from speaking harshly begins to train your mind not to think harsh things about others (or yourself), and that's A Good Thing. This is always a struggle, because I frequently think (and say) harsh things in traffic while I'm driving. In fact, my first harsh words this Lent came not quite 17 hours into it, at 4:58pm, when I said, "So why did you need to cut me off like that, you a-?" I broke off, realizing what I was about to say. And then I realized that the entire thing was harsh speech, not just the "a-" part of it. So I took a breath, and I said instead, "Abba, you know that I'm in a hurry to pick up my son from school, and I realize that all these other people are probably in a hurry to get home or to pick up their children or to do other important things in their lives. Please bless these people in their cars around me, and help me to love them, even when I don't particularly like them."

I've prayed that prayer before - "Lord, help me to love X, even though I don't particularly like her" - and with powerful results. It really does bring about a change of heart - a conversion of life - when I'd been beating my head against the issue for days or weeks or months. "God, please help me to love her," is such a big change from "What can I do to make her like me?" That prayer puts the focus back where it belongs, onto living in a right relationship with our brothers and sisters, and with God. It is not about how many people like us, or even about whether we can get that one person to like us, but about loving God, and loving our neighbors.

So that is what my Lenten fast is about - loving God, loving my neighbors, and trying just one little thing to live in better relationships with them. We'll see how it goes.