It’s Lent. For many Christians, Lent is a time to give up something important for the 46 plus days before Easter. The reasoning behind these simple sacrifices is to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. People can be quite creative in their Lenten commitments. While the most popular sacrifices tend to be giving up chocolate or sweets and swearing off caffeinated beverages or alcohol, more imaginative sacrifices that I’ve heard of may include giving up your bed (sleeping on the floor), giving up facebook, swearing off forks and spoons (weird, right?), or no radio for Lent. One year, my creative Catholic friend gave up procrastination. Some pastors have even encouraged their parishioners to take on something, instead of give up something. For instance, increasing prayer life or reading the Bible everyday or doing a daily good deed.
For me, you could say that I gave up giving up things for Lent. I must say I’ve been quite successful with this “sacrifice.” So this year, I comfortably entered the season of Lent with no change. Until church last week.
Our preaching staff began a 3-week-long series entitled Consumed. Each message within the series concludes with a challenge. This past Sunday’s challenge was a doozy! We were challenged to stop spending – no new stuff for two weeks. At first, I sat in my pew feeling smugly superior. I thought, We are seminary students, this is a piece of cake. We are the antithesis of consumerism. Some of the examples that were given of how we could stop consuming were: dust off the coffee maker and make your own coffee. Check! Already done. No eating out. Ha! Easy! They suggested no new outfits or new electronic gadgets for a whole two weeks. Check. And Check! We could do that for two years!
As if the pastor saw the self-satisfied smog cloud floating around me, he followed with, “And if this is too easy for you, include groceries in this challenge. Try living out of your freezer and pantry for the next two weeks.” Ah! Food! My weakness! How did he know?! After a quick perusal of my mental calendar, I realized three of our six birthdays fall within the next two weeks and we were hosting two dinners at our home next weekend. Panicking!
I sat there for a moment in shock. But after doing a mental checklist of our pantry and freezer items, I decided this challenge would be good for me. I can do this. I like a challenge. Furthermore, this could potentially be a great learning exercise for our family. And it has been!
Josiah’s birthday was yesterday. His gift had been purchased a few weeks ago (phew!). But instead of birthday cupcakes at school, he’ll take the Edy’s popsicles in the deep freeze tomorrow. There were just enough for his class. For his birthday dinner, he chose homemade BLT’s instead of a favorite restaurant. He never once complained about the changes made to his birthday plan. He seemed to like the challenge.
The person who seems most affected by this two-week sacrifice is my husband, Toby. His birthday is tomorrow and unlike my son’s gift, his was not purchased early. He is trying to play the legalism card on these challenge shenanigans. But I am encouraging him to see it as a “spending diet” or a “consumerism cleanse.” To see it as a form of healthy discipline and not an act of works righteousness. He’s coming around. How I will make his favorite French onion soup
out of three tiny onions or his birthday carrot cake out of two carrots, we’ll have to see, but I am going to try to use my resourcefulness and not my wallet to make his birthday just as special as he had hoped it would be.
So four days into the challenge, it has been more of an adjustment than I had thought it would be. We have plenty of consumerism to slim down on, even if we are a seminary family. If we didn’t, I wouldn’t be counting the days until the end and dreading what the pastors have in store for next week’s challenge. But even though it has been an adjustment, there has been an equal blessing. In that, when I take the focus off of even the simplest form of consumerism: grocery shopping, I see the wealth we already have more clearly. You don’t realize how much of a hold consumerism has on you until you turn around and challenge it. And when the drive to consume is held at bay, there is instantly more room for contentment and thanksgiving.
Hebrews 12:1-3 ~ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.