“Taking Up, Not Giving Up”
By: Rev. Dr. Jeffrey A. Schooley
As Lent approaches (Ash Wednesday is just two weeks away!), I want to take this space to share what our Lenten theme will be.
The common perception of Lent is a time when we give up some small pleasure – chocolate, social media, caffeine, etc. – as a spiritual discipline of self-control and self-sacrifice. And this perception is valid to a point. After all, the entirety of Lent is designed to help us approach, understand, and appreciate the love of God as seen in the self-sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And, to be sure, from the very beginning, Jesus’ death and resurrection has been a hotly debated event. Even scripture records some of the earliest theories that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, but that His body was moved so as to play a trick on the masses. As such, it makes sense that early church leaders wanted to make sure everyone understood exactly what transpired over those three days, and there’s possibly no better way to understand Christ’s self-sacrifice than by participating in our own – lesser! – form of self-sacrifice.
I stand by all this theo-logic and reasoning. At the same time, self-sacrifice is not only difficult to market, it also runs against the grain of the flourishing that a life in Christ assures us. Simply put, seemingly arbitrary denials of simple pleasures do not immediately or naturally increase our love of God and our love of our neighbor. Put theologically, Lenten sacrifices help us understand the cost of the Cross, but not the potency and opportunity of the empty tomb. Lent must be about more than preparing for death, but rather be about embodying truly living – that is, living in Christ.
Therefore, this Lent I’m going to encourage you to take up new disciplines, new opportunities, new life more than you’ll be encouraged to give up old ways. Now, to be sure, as we take up disciplines of studying scripture, prayer, fasting, activism, repentance, and service, we may find that some parts of our current life will not have time or space enough for them. But that’s always the case. As anyone who is still plugging away at their New Year’s Resolutions knows, you can’t take up 5 hours at the gym every week without giving up those five hours to however else they were being spent. The difference – subtle, but significant – though is that “taking up” results in “giving up,” while “giving up” does not necessarily result in “taking up.”
My hope for each of us this Lent is that on the other side of it we find that we have richer, fuller lives – not only because Christ died and was raised again, but because we have taken up disciplines that promote spiritual growth, personal flourishing, and communal strengthening.
It is also important that this is a season in the Church’s life. It’s important because this season – like our meteorological seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter – is a shared experience. Yes, I’m writing these words while alone and you’re likely reading them in solitude (even if someone else is in the room, I doubt you’re reading this out loud), but our taking-up-not-giving-up efforts will be a shared, communal experience. That’s just the nature of seasons. And so, I hope that you’ll embrace this season for what it is – that is, that you won’t do the spiritual equivalent of trying to wear shorts in the winter (even though I see an alarming number of college students doing just this!) – and that you’ll embrace the opportunities to take up new disciplines as well as share your experience of doing so with others. Practically understood, I hope that at least some of your conversation with one another during Coffee Hour involves sharing the ups and downs, the successes and challenges of our “Taking Up Lent.” Doing so will help others know they are not alone in their own efforts, and you might even find just enough encouragement from someone else to keep after it for just one more week.
So, get excited! In a few weeks’ time, you may find yourself a different person, even if just incrementally so. You will have added a new facet of flourishing to your life and will be doing so to the glory of God.
Throughout Lent, I hope you begin the sentences in your mind with “This year I’m taking up…” rather than the implicitly discouraging, “This year I’m giving up….” After all, no one wants to be known as a quitter!