Friday, February 15, 2013

On Love, Lent, and the Laying Down of Self

Yesterday, our nation celebrated Valentine's Day. A day of giving and receiving love. As our family gathered around the supper table last night, I asked my four Valentine's to share with me what love meant to them.

Emma, age eight, said that love was spending time with her family.

Kate, age six, said that love was God loves us and we love God.

Jack, age two, said that love was a girl named Holly. (true story, but a story for another day.)

Boss thought before answering, but finally told the children that love was the laying down of self for the good of another. Beautiful words from a beautiful man (though it's entirely possible I am a bit biased). And I have been thinking on his words ever since, on what it means, just exactly, to lay down one's self.

children at the orphanage in Haiti
Two days ago, many in our nation participated in the tradition of Ash Wednesday, otherwise known as the start of the Lent Season. Having never before participated in Lent myself, I was unprepared for the questions asked of me by my daughters as we were around town this past Wednesday.
Mama, what is that black stuff on that woman's forehead?
Mama, is that dirt? Why doesn't she clean it off? Should we tell her it is there?
I shared what little I knew about Lent with my children, that the black ash represented Christ's cross and the sacrifice that he made for each of us, and that the people who had the ash on their foreheads were going to sacrifice something themselves to be more like Christ. I told my daughters that the ash was like a symbol, something to set those people apart. Something to show they would be laying down something of themselves in the coming days.
That's a good idea, Mama, to give something up for God, my girls told me. And I assured them that I agreed. Especially if my husbands words were true, that the giving up,that the laying down of self is true love.
Then what better way to show God our love by laying down something of ourselves for him?
And I decided that I needed to know a bit more about this practice of Lent.

Mama talking with a new friend
Lent: The period before Easter in the Christian calendar: the period of 40 weekdays before Easter observed in some Christian churches as a period of prayer, penance, fasting, and self-denial. This period, starting on Ash Wednesday in Western churches, commemorates the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent fasting in the wilderness. (definition from
“Okay… Lent. It’s the preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.” - Ann Voskamp (A Holy Experience)

"Part of the idea behind Lent is to take a look at our lives, to do an honest assessment of our journey to/toward/with God and to repent of the things that are distancing us from God, to turn away from those things. Considering how many things, the distractions, the obstacles, we have in our lives today which get between us and our ability to follow the teachings of Jesus, I can't help but think Lent may actually be more needed now than it has ever been." - Mark Sandlin (The Huffington Post)
a picture of poverty
Three weeks ago, my mama boarded a plane bound for Haiti. Because she was willing to love another, to lay down some of herself to serve another, she now has new stories to tell. She now tells the story of extreme poverty, but of people who smile anyway. She now tells the story of tiny children with big eyes, who scarf down their meal to the very last grain of rice. She now tells the story of orphans who (although they need love and new shoes) are no longer in need of hearing the Good News. Because people who were willing to lay down something of themselves and go, just go, have shared the Good News with them. And I am proud of my mama for being brave enough to go. For having love enough to share with others. For laying herself down as she traveled to Haiti to serve.

Mama and the boy she sponsors
And all of these thoughts have me thinking that love, and Lent, and the laying down of self are really all the very same thing. It doesn't matter one bit what we call the sacrifice we choose to make for Christ. We could call our sacrifice love. We could call our sacrifice Lent. We could call our sacrifice the laying down of self. It doesn't matter the words we use. 
All that matters is that we sacrifice.
Really, God wants us to sacrifice all that we have for his sake. Everything. But a good place to start is by sacrificing something.

sweet boy doing chores
So I started to think about what I could sacrifice. Where does one who has everything even begin when she wants to give up something? I thought of Haiti. I thought of how much we have in this country. I thought of how little they have. And I thought that yes, I could love these people enough to give up something that I love in order to serve them in a very small way. And in loving and serving them, I would be loving and serving God.

little girl working hard
So I decided to give up soda until Easter. Sounds too simple, right? Silly, even. But if you know me, you know that I seriously love soda. I sip it daily like it is going out of style. And not that there is anything inherently wrong with soda (other than it is terrible for you), but there is something wrong with spending more money on soft drinks each year then you spend on helping God's people who are in need. There is something wrong with loving my wants, more than loving anothers needs.
Mama and the girl she sponsors
So my very basic plan is to drink water. But I will carry a notebook with me. And when I am out and would have normally bought a soda, I will jot that down, jot right on down what I would have spent. And I will think of those around the world who have nothing, not even fresh drinking water, and I will thank God for the water. For his many blessings in my life. And at the end of this time of love, or Lent, or the laying down of self, I will add up that money I would have spent on soda and I will send it to Haiti. Such a small, insignificant thing to do, but it is a start. And you have to start somewhere.

sweet thing
I am sure at some point I will fail. Fail in the drinking water only. Fail in the not thanking God. Goodness knows I fall, and fumble, and fail every single day. But Mark Sandlin said it best when he said, Let's be real. If the thing you are giving up, if the thing that gets in the way of your relationship with God is marginalizing people in need out of fear of losing your own comfortable lifestyle, you are going to mess us. You just are. Isn't that all the more reason to try? Isn't that all the more reason to be okay with messing up some, to begin to be more aware of it and to move toward the life that God desires for you? Because the messing up is not the point. The soda is not the point. The point is, like Ann so eloquently said, Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice. That's really the point of any of this, is it not?
can I take her home?
So what about you? Have you ever thought about the way that you love others? The way that you love God? Have you ever given up something that you liked, or even something that you loved, in order to become more like him? Are you in the lifestyle habit of the laying down of self? If not, then I would encourage you to think long on these things. To ask God what he might have you let go of in order that he might draw you more fully in. It doesn't matter the sacrifice. How simple or how small.
All that matters is that we do it.
And we have to start somewhere.

housing in Haiti

* all pictures taken by my mama during her time in Haiti last month*

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