It’s Lent – in fact we’re almost halfway through it. Both my parents and all four of my grandparents were Protestants, most of them actively practicing their faith and attending church services as long as they were physically able.
But when asked about her religious affiliation, my mother often described herself as a “lapsed Presbyterian.” I think what she meant by that was that she was raised in the Presbyterian faith by believing parents (I can honestly say her father lived his Christian faith in daily life as well as anyone I’ve ever known, and better than most), but that she herself had abandoned the rituals and fellowship that came with attending church during adulthood.
Still, she never stopped supporting church and para-church organizations, and took tithing seriously until her dying day. She taught Sunday School when I was a child. She sent me to a Christian school and encouraged me to learn about God and faith, so I would understand my own beliefs. She encouraged me to question, while always making it clear that she herself had a very deep and personal walk with God.
Although she hadn’t attended church for years, Mom celebrated Lent – and Easter was important to her. We all made the pilgrimage to be with her for Easter, especially in the later years of her life. After all, for Christians, although Christmas signifies the gift of Christ from God the Father, Easter signifies Christ’s gift of sacrificial love, and the culmination of God’s plan.
Lent isn’t prescribed by the Bible. No place in scripture tells us how to celebrate it. It evolved in very early Christianity, apparently echoing Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, as a preparation for the celebration of Easter. For some people, that means fasting, or giving up a favorite food or habit. Practicing Catholics are most likely to celebrate Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent and a symbol of humility) and to choose a specific thing to give up.
Other denominations do things like special “One Great Hour of Sharing” offerings where an extra tithe is set aside for those in need, or simply prepare their hearts through focused study or sermons. I have a Lenten devotional book I’ve worked through for many years now. I’m about half way through, and here’s where it’s taken me this year (each time I seem to find something a little different).
As I learned from my mother, this is a good time to contemplate personal sacrifice and how fortunate we are. It isn’t that giving up chocolate for a month or so is particularly meaningful. It’s that the daily practice of making a small sacrifice reminds us of larger sacrifices made by others before us, and of how little we are really giving back. For me, it’s a call to do more.
Lately I’ve been focused on immediate family needs and trying to prepare for my husband’s retirement. I haven’t reached outside my little circle much at all, although “giving back” was one of my own retirement goals. It’s a goal I’ve fallen short on for the most part this past year.
It’s time to readjust my focus and get back to doing some things that make a difference. It’s part of my heritage, and my responsibility.