Grown-up Christianity Part 2: Lent for Grown-ups

I used to be a smoker, but I had my last cigarette on Saturday 29th March 1986. And I haven’t smoked anything since. Before 1986 I’d given up smoking for Lent on several occasions, but – stupidly – when it got to Easter Day I thought: ‘Great – I can have a cigarette now!’ Not a very grown-up approach to Lent. Eventually – in 1986 – I decided to give up smoking at the end of Lent. That last cigarette was on the day before Easter. And for me – it worked!

So what is Lent for? What can we say about Lent for grown-up Christians?
At our Ash Wednesday service I read these words in the introduction: ‘I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.’

Now that all sounds good and sensible. But I sometimes wonder: Why just during the forty days of Lent? Wouldn’t it be good to be doing all that every day of the year?

I’d like to suggest a three-pronged approach to Lent – or rather – three legged. When I’m shooting video for a DVD I use a tripod to mount my camera on. It has three legs and it keeps the camera firm and level. But if I let off the catch on one of the legs – or don’t have it correctly adjusted – it will be far from level or firm. In fact it’s quite likely to fall over.

As human beings, the person we are is made up of three dimensions which are a bit like the legs of my tripod. We are body, mind and spirit. The three together make up what we sometimes call the ‘soul’ – our essential humanness. The soul isn’t some extra bit tucked away inside us. It’s the sum total of everything we are. Who we are depends – like the tripods and its legs – on keeping every part of us in good condition. If we neglect any one of the three, then we won’t be firm or level. We’ll be out of balance and our whole being will be affected.

So – just as I have to make sure the legs of my tripod are set right, so we have to look after the three dimensions of our soul – body, mind and spirit. And Lent is a good time to do something about that. As well as preparing us for Easter, Lent takes us into the season of Spring. In fact the very name ‘Lent’ is thought to come from an old word for Spring. So maybe – if it’s not mixing up the metaphors too much – it’s time for a personal Spring clean.

In practice, though, what might this involve? Let’s take them one at a time.

First – the body. Quite a lot of us – myself included – could do with losing some weight. Most of us should take more exercise. Some sorts of food aren’t good for us. The alcohol we enjoy drinking is full of calories and it’s a drug. It’s addictive and, if we drink too much, it can rot our livers. Smokers can’t avoid the messages about that other popular drug – tobacco – and the dangers it brings. Most of us are getting older and muscle strength isn’t what it used to be. Keeping as active as possible is important.

Then – the mind. The old saying ‘If you don’t want to lose it, use it.’ Certainly applies to the brain. I think I read somewhere that brain-power peaks in your twenties, and after that it’s all downhill. But that it’s best to do all you can to keep your mind stimulated, and there are plenty of opportunities around if we seek them out – book clubs, evening classes, University of the Third Age, clubs and societies. And, of course, getting involved in various forms of community service.

And then – the spirit. That’s a bit more difficult to locate, or for a doctor to diagnose. But most people – whether they’re religious or not – seem to agree that there is something called ‘the human spirit’. As Christians, we believe that this is to do with our relationships with God and with our fellow human beings. In fact, when we talk about ‘sin’ and ‘confession’, it’s not about lists of individual acts of wrongdoing. It’s more about the breakdown of our relationships with other people and with God. That’s why many churches which offer confession with a priest now refer to it as ‘the Sacrament of Reconciliation’ – a way to be reconciled with God and with our neighbour.

And our spiritual well-being is also about how we see ourselves – our own sense of who we are and what we are – our self awareness. Our spiritual dimension can be fed and nurtured in Church, in a house-group, in our own personal prayer and in reading – both the Bible itself and other specifically religious books. But don’t forget novels, the theatre and cinema, radio and television – all of them can be a source of spiritual nourishment and challenge, as well as helping to keep our minds active.

So – three legs – three dimensions of our own existence. We may be all too well aware of our shortcomings in each. Sometimes it needs someone else to point them out. But doing something about it is another matter. And this reminds me of a couple of verses from St Paul’s letter to the Romans: ‘I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.’

We keep on doing things that aren’t good for us physically, mentally or spiritually. Or not doing things – like the extra exercise – that we know very well would be good for us. But St Paul knew that – with God’s help – something could be done, that human nature can be changed.

So – it’s Lent. What can we do about it? If we just think in childish terms of ‘giving something up for Lent’, then we’ll just end up like me and the cigarettes all those years ago. It’s Easter – time for a ciggy, and an extra glass or two of wine, a chocolate Easter egg – or whatever – and it’s back to square one.

I doubt if any one of us in Lent 2013 can set about making all the changes we should make in our lives at one go. That would be unrealistic. But maybe we could pick just one or two things from each dimension of our lives that we can begin to change – and change permanently. That’s what growing up as a Christian and as a human being should really be about. Moving forward one step at a time.

But, of course, before you can start taking steps forward you have to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. You remember – at the beginning – the words I used from the Ash Wednesday service mentioned repentance. Now repentance isn’t mainly about being sorry for something – though that comes into it. It’s actually more about turning round – a change of direction.

A certain well-known Prime Minister once said: ‘The lady’s not for turning!’ But we have to be prepared to turn round and start heading in the right direction if we are going be real grown-up Christians. And then – bit by bit – make some changes to really strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits. Changes that will last – not be forgotten in six weeks time.

So maybe those words from the Ash Wednesday service do sum it up quite well: ‘I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.’

A grown-up Lent for grown-up Christians.

(If you have found this blog interesting or helpful, please pass on the link to others. And please feel free to make a comment – see below.)

2 Responses to “Grown-up Christianity Part 2: Lent for Grown-ups”

  1. 1 Liz Bawn February 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks Geoff. So nice to have this Lent message, when we are far from home and our usual sermons. Will be passing this on to a range of folks who may also value your fresh approach. God Bless Liz x

  2. 2 Mary Bainbridge February 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you Geoff. I have passed this on to the leaders of our Lent Groups as we are discussing the Spiritual disciplines – fasting this week.
    Mary Bainbridge

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