I grew up in a Southern Baptist home and we had a loose affiliation with church, so the idea of Lent was altogether foreign to me. I think I knew it was something that Catholics did, but I wasn’t Catholic so it didn’t really mean much. In high school I had friends who were Catholic and didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. And that about concluded my education on the subject.
Fast forward many years and I married a man who grew up in the Catholic church. Attended an all boys, Catholic high school and everything. He wasn’t happy in the Catholic Church nor was I in my Baptist church so we met in the middle and starting attending a United Methodist Church. By then we were in North Carolina and had our daughter in preschool there, so it was an easy transition. We knew people there already and they knew us. Not to mention the fact that the minister was absolutely phenomenal! I learned more in the years that Dr. John Tyson pastored our little church in Swansboro than I ever had in 30 years of Sunday School.
It was there that I learned what Lent was all about. That Mardi Gras wasn’t just a parade in New Orleans, Fat Tuesday had a Biblical history, that the ashes on your forehead are made from palm leaves saved from the year before, I learned the difference between a tradition and a ritual. I even learned how to make Empty Tomb cookies.
This week I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned since I became a dyed in the wool Methodist, what I know about Lent, about Easter, and about what it means for me to be a Christian. I’ve often found that I end up right where I need to be for what my friend calls “a moment of clarity”. As I was thinking all of these deep thoughts yesterday (Fat Tuesday), I ended up at Starbucks, sitting next to man with an interesting story to tell.
Artie plopped down at the table next to mine and asked me if I was homeschooling my son. I told him I was. To be fair, it was probably pretty obvious since we had school books scattered everywhere. But it was just the opening he needed to tell me about his mission in life. It turns out that 1. he wasn’t crazy & 2 he is an amazing human being. Artie’s mission in life is to “Pay it forward”. He spent yesterday morning at a local high school, paying off lunch debt for seniors so they can graduate this spring. He made plans at a local elementary school to do the same for them. He also told me about how he sometimes pays for groceries for single moms at the grocery store.
Artie is an Army veteran with a Purple Heart and he’s out in the world just doing some good. Meeting him just solidified what was calling to me going into Lent. It brought into focus what I had been trying so hard to see clearly. It was the idea that I should focus on what I think Jesus calls us to do. To look at every person as if they had the face of God. What if we all walked out in the world with that view? How would it change the way I spoke to people? How would it change the way I felt about people? How will it change me?
Last Sunday my current associate pastor, Josh, talked about 1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And we have this commandment from Him: Whoever loves God must love his brother as well.…
So this Lent I’m giving up negativity. I’m giving up preconceived notions. I’m giving up my own insecurities. For the next 40 days I want to look at every person I meet as if they had the face of God. I’m not sure where that will lead me but that’s where I’m going.
Where is Lent leading you this year?