In the last few years, at least among those I know, there seems to be a renewed interest in the liturgical calendar and various spiritual practices, and observing Lent is once again on the radar screen. Several friends have asked me what I gave up for Lent, not to assess my spiritual maturity, but rather to get some ideas for their own observance. With no standard practice, we are pretty much open to anything—meat, TV, Facebook… whatever.
Last year I “fasted” from computer games. While I don’t think I’m addicted, I was surprised at how strong the urge was to play just a few rounds of solitaire, maybe to unwind, maybe to stay distracted while waiting for something. But I managed to resist temptation and instead used the time to read my Bible and pray. What a good idea!
This year I had in mind to do something similar, but Ash Wednesday came and went and I did nothing about it. I’m sure I can come up with a list of excuses if you email me and ask.
Recently, I was sitting in Sunday school listening to our missions pastor. He was expounding on his favorite subject, the Great Commission, and how, instead of asking if we should go, we need to ask what is holding us back from going. Suddenly, his program was interrupted by a special announcement from our Sponsor. I don’t know about the rest of the room, but I heard the commercial loud and clear: “What are you still holding on to?”
The class ended, people were milling around, and I got a bit distracted. We headed over to the worship center for the next service. Then, as the music was starting, God interrupted me again. “What are you still holding on to?”
I thought about the question. I remember having dreams of career and travel, and giving them all to God when I became a believer at age 18.
We bought our first house, and I couldn’t imagine ever giving that up, but we did, only four years later. The second house was a bit larger for our growing family, and we put a lot of effort into making it just right for us. Surely God would let us stay there forever! Nine years later He moved us across the country to Colorado.
We’ve been in our current house over 18 years. It really has everything I’ve ever wanted, and more—a cook’s kitchen, a huge garden and small greenhouse, chickens, space, peace and quiet, and even a spectacular view of Pikes Peak. But when I think about it, I’d move in a heartbeat if that was what God said to do.
I thought of all the other “treasures” that I’d held on to over the years and realized that there was nothing I could think of that was more important than being with God. I’ve even trusted Him with my family, those I love with all my heart. He can take better care of them than I ever could.
I appreciate that God didn’t rip these treasures out of my hands. Rather, He gently opened my clenched fists, finger by finger, until I was able to let go—not with resentment and a sense of loss, but with expectancy and anticipation. Do I miss anything God has asked me to give Him? Not really. The things I’ve let go of were all things keeping me from knowing God better. Looking back, nothing I’ve lost begins to compare with what I’ve gained.
We were still singing worship songs (we sing a lot at our church) when I told God that I couldn’t think of anything I was still holding on to more than Him, but if I was missing something, to please point that out to me so I could surrender that too. So far, nothing has come to mind (although I realize I’m perfectly capable of grabbing onto something new at any moment).
Meanwhile, next time someone asks me what I’ve given up for Lent, I know what my answer will be: everything.