March 13, 2013 - This past weekend with warm temperatures and sunshine, the birds singing in the trees and the snow melting, I sensed springtime in the air.
It is always such a relief when it seems that we have once again made it through another winter. I begin to plan the garden and even can't wait to get outside to do yard work.
I love to watch everything come back to life. Even though I know winter will try to return again in the next few weeks, I also know that spring and life will win the day.
In our lives of faith a similar struggle takes place during this season of preparation for Easter that we call Lent.
In fact the word Lent comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word for "springtime." That seems to fit well, as Lent can be a spring-like renewal of faith. However just as winter never seems to give up without a fight, so too our lives of faith can be a struggle.
Our desire and good intentions to grow, soon collide with the realities of a too-busy world or our deep anxiety about the future or our regrets about the past.
Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 13 this year) and culminates at Easter, covers a period of 40 days. It originated centuries ago as a time of intense preparation for Baptism at Easter.
For all of us today Lent can be a time of repentance (turning to God), and renewed spiritual devotion. Some people fast, or "give something up" for Lent, such as a favorite food or TV, as a way of focusing attention on God.
The idea is that every time we crave the item given up, we are reminded of our dependence upon God's grace and love. Other spiritual disciplines practiced during Lent include renewed devotion to Bible study and prayer, generous giving to those in need, and my personal favorite, deciding to commit at least one random act of kindness each day.
All of these things can draw us closer to God, but they don't make God love us any more than he already does. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 TNIV)
This Lent at Calvary Lutheran we have been reading a small devotional booklet called "Holy Habits for the Season of Lent" by Rich Bimler.
I particularly like this book because it lifts up many common everyday things as spiritual practices to help us grow. Such "holy habits" include smiling more, laughter, getting enough rest, really listening, playing, or amazement at common everyday things. Sure he also includes things you might expect like confession and serving.
But his point is clear, sometimes we think the only spiritual disciplines that count are the really big ones like reading the whole Bible or fasting. Good as these things are, we can also grow by making a simple commitment each day to practice being more childlike, or saying thank you, or sharing some enthusiasm for life and faith.
So even if you have not made any commitments this Lent or have forsaken those you did make, there is nothing to stop you today, right now, from taking up some "holy habits" in your everyday life.
Each and every day we have a fresh start – a new opportunity to receive and live in God's grace and to develop some "holy habits."
God never gives up on us. And the really cool thing is that when we do spend some real time with God, we do grow to become more the way God intends us to be.
My favorite description of God's desire for the character of our lives is from Galatians 5 where Paul writes, "…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." That's the way God made us and wills for our lives to look no matter what is happening around us.
The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church