Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
It’s nearing the end of Lent, the 40 day period of time (not counting Sundays) which many faiths use to prepare themselves for the celebration of Easter. In my church, it’s a time when many reflect and practice a new spiritual discipline such as daily devotions, serving others, reading the Bible, while others choose to fast from or deny themselves of a specific food or activity.
I was not raised with the tradition of fasting or denying myself during the Lenten season. However as an adult, I became more aware of this practice. As I studied Jesus’ time of preparation for ministry when He retreated to the desert to fast, pray and be tempted, I realized the purpose for this discipline of self- denial or fasting. I began with small personal sacrifices and when my children were young we attempted to choose a common focus as a family. Each year, as Ash Wednesday approached, the question arose, what would we give up? One year, we tried to deny ourselves TV. That was a learning experience! Other years, it was a specific food, such as cookies or chocolate. My kids would want to give up something like spinach. This was followed by the discussion of whether that was a sacrifice for them or not. I had to admit that limiting my choice to cookies wasn’t really a sacrifice either because I would satisfy my sweet tooth with other decadent cakes and sweets. Who was I fooling with my righteous statement of “giving up cookies for lent”? In reality, there was really no sense of denial or sacrifice.
I had to question, why I was doing this? Was it truly a spiritual discipline? Was it a true sacrifice or was I just going through the motions in giving up sweets? Was I secretly hoping for weight loss more than spiritual growth?
When Jesus was in the wilderness, he suffered and sacrificed for forty days. My pitiful sacrifice of cookies or chocolate didn’t even compare. If I intended to be serious about spiritual growth, I needed to take inventory of the things that distracted and separated me from Christ.
Recently, I presented a Martha and Mary drama (Luke 10:38-42) for several different churches. While preparing the personal reflections that follow this drama, I had a revelation. I had been facing my Lenten sacrifice like an action to be completed and checked off my Martha list. I was in the accomplishment mode. When in reality, I should have been listening to the voice of Christ saying “Peg, Peg, you are distracted by so many things, but Mary has chosen the better part.” Light bulb moment! My Lenten sacrifice should be emulating Mary’s heart of worship and drawing me closer to Christ.
So what did I do this year? True confessions? I took a personal inventory and identified one of my time-consuming distractions, cell phone games. Yes, “my name is Peg and I am addicted to Words with Friends.” I love the competition, the connection with friends and family, and the brief messages we share in the process! Yes, it’s a cell phone game but it is also a virtual visit. However, one turn leads to another, until time has escaped me and I am behind on other responsibilities! So this year, I decided I would use that time for spiritual disciplines such as additional prayer time and devotions to help me grow in my relationship with Christ.
It does not need to be Lent to take a personal inventory and identify those distractions that steal away your time or separate you from Christ. Do you feel distanced from your walk with Christ? Do you feel you are consumed with the “Martha” or worldly obligations? Would practicing the spiritual discipline of denial, help you to find that time to kneel at the feet of Jesus?
Dear Jesus, Thank you for your patience with me as I stumble along and make mistake after mistake. Denying myself is not the easiest thing to do. I am tempted to see denial through worldly eyes when denial in Your eyes is what helps me grow closer to You. Open my eyes to help me identify ways to grow closer to You. You have called me to deny myself, take up Your cross daily and follow You. In addition, You have promised that I never do this alone. Amen.