Rev Sue’s February letter to the parish:
For various reasons this piece needed to be written on the 2nd January. It was hard to get my head around where we’ll be in February! Lent is the obvious topic so it got me thinking. What is the difference between New Year’s Resolutions and Lenten disciplines? They can look very similar but delve deeper and there are big differences.
New Year’s Resolutions are about objectives, whereas Lent is all about motivation. For example, a common resolution is to diet to lose weight. You might decide to restrict the number of calories you eat or to stop eating puddings or chocolate either because you want to look better or feel better about yourself or because the doctor has suggested that it might be a good thing. All those are good in themselves, but they won’t do for Lent. Lent is about coming closer to God. You might decide to give up chocolate, not to feel better about yourself, but to take away one of the props you use to cheer yourself up, and so to rely more on God’s help to get you through tough times. If it becomes a battle to prove you can do it, then pride can be involved. So full marks for will power, but no points for humility! In Lent we want to foster a sense of dependence on God, not an ability to cope by ourselves.
Perhaps it is better to take something up, rather than deprive ourselves. A New Year’s Resolution might be to go to the gym to improve our fitness. In Lent we might realise that we need to come closer to God and one way to do that is to go for a walk or a run. Some people – especially those who find sitting still uncongenial – might like to pray while they exercise. Get into the rhythm and repeat a prayer in time with your steps – something simple like “Lord, have Mercy”. I often listen to Morning Prayer or a daily meditation on my phone as I walk to church. My favourites are https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-service-daily-prayer/daily-prayer-app-and-podcast and https://pray-as-you-go.org/, but there are many more to try. If you want something more gentle how about Christian yoga? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-89xjgn6lI
All those things have been about going it alone, but what is far better is to decide with a friend what you will do and support each other. Best of all, come along to an extra service – perhaps Morning Prayer on a Thursday, or join us online. Find strength and discipline in worshipping together. Last of all there are the Lent groups. Come to deepen your faith, share fellowship (laughter and biscuits guaranteed) and to get to know others (and yourself) better.
But Lent needn’t focus on our inner selves. Maybe you need to make an effort to visit someone who is lonely, go litter picking or campaign for justice for people or planet. Service dedicated to God is a way of getting closer to him, too.
One advantage of Lent is that the commitment is for 6 weeks, not a whole year, so it is much more realistic. You can regard it as an experiment – you might find at the end that the lifestyle change you made is one you want to keep permanently.
So, ask yourself – how can I come closer to God, know more of his love, his comfort and his strength this Lent?