Why We Do Lent

 
 
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Isaiah 58:3-4
 
It's that time of the year when men and women alike give up their most prized possession in order to reflect more on, do more for and get closer to God. Me?  I realized not too many months ago that I have an addiction problem. When I wake up in the morning, it is the first thing I do and before I go to sleep at night, it is the last thing I check. What is that thing? Facebook. Although I still check my notifications and messages, because the world might be ending and how would I know it if I couldn't even do this, I, for the most part, have given up the stress relieving action of scrolling through my news feed. And, trust me, this is no small feat, my friend.
 
Lent is something that I never did growing up. Being a good Baptist girl, it's not something we even discussed. It was something those Catholics did. So, when we started attending a Methodist church about 5 years ago, I was surprised that they observed Lent. Over the past four years I have learned first of all, that there are quite a few things that I believe Catholics have right (another discussion for another day), but second of all, Lent is not merely a season of giving up, but a season of taking on. The first sermon I heard my pastor preach on Lent was about God changing you from the inside, not just giving up something externally so that you could say you had done your Lenten duty. He said the point is not just giving up chocolate or coffee or even Facebook, for that matter, but the point is that whatever you give up, you put God in that place.  And that the change should go beyond Lent. 

 

It's not about changing 40 days, it's about changing your life.  

 
Today is the eleventh day of Lent and as I was reading my Bible, something I have been trying to do every day lately, even before Lent, I realized that perhaps I was stuck in the Lenten rut of only giving something up outwardly and not allowing God to change me inwardly.
 
On it's first read, Isaiah 58 seems pretty harsh and cumbersome. There goes that God of the Old Testament shouting out judgments and warnings to a people who are just trying their hardest. Can't he just cut them some slack? This is definitely not the same God we read about through Jesus in the New Testament. But, then you read it again because you are sure you missed something about grace and mercy and unicorns and rainbows.  Then you see it.  You read about a God who is asking for his people to loosen the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share food with the hungry, provide those without shelter a place to lay their head, clothe the naked...which all sounds quite a bit like what Jesus calls us to do. God is basically asking his people not only to fast outwardly, but to act in a way that would show their heart is changed as well. Like Jesus said, we are to clean the inside and then the outside will be clean as well. If the inside is not clean, then the outward cleanliness doesn't really do any good.
 
And then you remember how many times Israel has turned their back on God (you may not be familiar with the history of Israel, but trust me, it is a lot) and you think, "I would never do that. Those people are really messed up." But as I was reading this morning I came across the verses that cut me to the core. It starts with, "Yet on the day of fasting you do as you please." It goes on to describe the people exploiting, fighting with and having a drag down, shoot 'em out. And it doesn't get better because later it says they speak maliciously about others.  Ouch.
 

God was asking me to do more.

 
It was at that moment I realized that giving up Facebook was not enough. Yes, I have seen how God has used the time that I haven't spent on Facebook to clean my house, read the Bible, talk more to my spouse and child. Day by day I do see a flicker of change, however this morning I realized it was not enough. God was asking me to do more. This more is not selling my house and car to go and work with the poor or anything that drastic. As a stay at home momma, I believe that most are in a phase of our life where our focus is better placed on our young children and sometimes that is all the energy we have to do. As I have talked to other moms of young children and reflected myself, I think that we are too hard on ourselves when it comes to feeling like we aren't doing enough. We aren't reading our Bible enough, we aren't serving at church enough, we aren't hanging out with our friends enough. I will tell you right now, mama, you are doing enough by spending all of your waking hours providing for and shaping a young mind that will one day go out into the world. That is enough. But, I digress. (I could write a whole blog on that topic.)** This isn't about mom guilt or God guilt for that matter, this is about an internal change. A change that may not go beyond the four walls of your house and your group of friends and family (which I call my village).
 
God says, "Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife"...
 
Double ouch.
 
As I read this I began thinking how often my tongue is sharp with my husband or child.  How selfish I am with where I put my attention. How irritated I get with my little family when things don't go my way. How I don't take the time to teach my learning little girl, who tells me almost daily how beautiful I am and seeks to emulate everything I do, why yelling at Mama isn't acceptable (a big problem we have been having recently) and why she can't do everything she wants to do all of the time. How many apologies I have had to give for being mean and cruel and not the person I want be. How much quarreling and strife I bring into my own house, even though I constantly point my finger at other people. How I think malicious thoughts about other people and judge them, even though I have no idea what they are going through. How I point fingers and try to push blame on everyone else.
 
I later read,
 

Where can you extend God's mercy to others right here where He has placed you.

 

Lent is not about our Holy Acts, but the love and mercy of our Holy God.

 

Diana Stone

 
The people in Isaiah's day were doing all of the right things, dressing up in sack cloth and ashes, weeping and wailing, giving up social media, movies, coffee, or breakfast, taking on a daily Bible reading, praying every night before they went to bed, but they weren't letting it change their hearts. And by changing their hearts, allowing God to help them show the mercy that they have received to other people. As God's children, we are meant to be a conduit of God's mercy. God showed us the greatest act of mercy when he sent his son, Jesus to die for all of the wrong things we have done.  But he doesn't just want to leave us there. He wants us to become the righteousness of God so that we can in turn, show the world that light.
 
 
But we don't (and can't) do it alone.  We only do it through God's grace.  And that, my friends is what is so beautiful about this Lenten season. It's not about doing it on your own, it's about relying on God to change your heart so that you can be his ambassador of love, to everyone...
 
Especially your little world.
 
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
 
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
 
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58:5-11
 
 
**By this I am not saying that God does not call moms with young children to take drastic measures like becoming missionaries, starting soup kitchens, or selling everything they have and giving it to the poor.  But those are calls from God, not from mom guilt.  We have to be careful not to put that pressure on ourselves (or other people) when we might  be exactly where we are supposed to be.  

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