Ash Wednesday marks the kick off to 40 days of prayer, fasting, repentance and abstinence. It's supposed to honor the time Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert while tempted by the devil.
Unfortunately, most of us are tempted to treat Lent like an endurance test to see how long we can go without pop, candy or beer. Why not give up something or embrace something more meaningful or lasting, something that will make your life or someone else's better?
The other day I did a small act of love for a stranger. I felt the tug on my heart to pay for the milkshake for the stranger in front of me at Mitchell’s Ice Cream. No big deal, no reason, I just felt that tug and went with it.
The next day, I got this email from a woman named Diana:
“I was so shocked as that has never happened to me before. You were a perfect stranger. As I was walking out the door, a lady stopped me and told me who you were. I was soooo excited as I have your book, God Never Blinks, and love it. All your words of wisdom are so inspiring. I was getting the milk shake for my husband, who was waiting in the car, as he is recovering from a serious surgery and has lost weight. I am trying to fatten him up. He just celebrated his 90th birthday and is recovering very well. PRAISE GOD!!!
This is the part that made my heart leap:
“Your kind deed made me think of my upcoming Lenten promises. Instead of giving things up for Lent, I am going to do a kind deed every day of Lent. I usually try to do this anyway, but am going to really focus on it. It can be the smallest gesture or something more.”
I love it. So let Diana be the tug on your heart. Commit a small act of kindness every day of Lent.
But if you really want to give up something, too, try giving up….
Plastic: No more straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bags, six pack rings clogging up the oceans and strangling our wildlife.
Facebook: No more scrolling and posting during dinner or in bed when the person you love is longing to spoon or snuggle. Those cat videos can wait.
A resentment: You know which one. The big kahuna. The ex-husband. The ex-wife. Your dad. Your mom. The daughter who hasn't spoken to you in years. Set the captives free. For 40 days, pray every day for that person's perfect good. God knows what that is, you don't need to. Pray that they know how much God loves them, even if you don't feel any love for them. God's love will get to them. And to you.
Fear: Find the whopper that keeps you stuck. Success? Failure? Growing old? Surrender it once and for all.
Shame: It's that darkness inside that makes you feel rotten to the core no matter how much good you do in the world. You were made good. You were made holy. You were made beautiful. Shame on you? No, shame off you.
A bad habit: Being late. Gossiping. Complaining about the weather, the Browns, the Cavs, the Indians. Pick your worst habit and stop doing it.
Stuff: The clothes you don't wear belong to people who need them. Donate.
Flogging: No more beating yourself up over your weight, your age, your choices. Once and for all, forgive yourself for everything.
Other people's opinions of you: God's opinion is the only one that matters, and God already loves you, as is.
These words: You always...You never...Whatever.
Multitasking: Try doing one thing with your full presence. Start by eating a clementine and tasting every bite. See what you're missing?
Or, you could always take 40 days to embrace...
The life you have: The income. The kids. The home that is your personal money pit. The dog that eats every right shoe. Bless the mess that is your life.
The person right in front of you: That person is always the most important person in your life. Be present. Look them in the eye. Use their name. People love to hear their name spoken.
God: Not just any God, but a God who loves you more than your grandma does. No more bogey-man God. God is not armed. God already loves you. Accept it and live happily ever after.
Solitude: Spend some time alone with God. The Jesuit Retreat House in Parma offers 57 acres of bliss. Rest is a holy gift to give yourself. It teaches you to have more faith in God than in your own doing.
The gift givers: Make a quick list of 40 people who have blessed your life. Call or send a note every day in Lent to thank the teachers, neighbors, family and friends who shaped you.
These words: You were right...I am sorry...I love you...thank you.
Praise: Use it generously on your spouse, your kids, your co-workers.
Your talents: Sit down at your piano, pick up your pen, putter with your paintbrush.
Help: God already sent a savior. Newsflash: It wasn't you. You don't have to go it alone. Ask for help.
The person in the mirror: Decide to love yourself. For 40 days, ask yourself this: What would people who loved themselves do? Then go do it.
Because in the end, Easter is a love story.