Presbyterians don’t give up stuff for Lent, I thought as I read about my church’s Ash Wednesday service for the first time three years ago.
Born a Presbyterian, I’ll die a Presbyterian, and we don’t fall for that whole self-sacrifice during Lent trip. I’d been to Ash Wednesday services with my wife, who is Roman Catholic. I accepted ashes on my forehead because they come off pretty easy with soap and a wash cloth. But I never accepted the concept of giving up something for Lent and I often ate meat for lunch on Fridays because I knew that supper would be meatless.
I joined the Downtown Presbyterian Church after the divorce and started attending Sunday services again. But in 50 plus years of being Presbyterian, I’d never seen such a thing as a Presbyterian Church celebrating Ash Wednesday. So I went to my first three years ago. It was nice. I picked up a hamburger on the way home afterward.
Ken Locke, my minister, talked about the sacrifices that Christ made and pointed out that Lent isn’t about giving up something you like so much as it is about focusing on the sacrifice that Christ made. Don’t give up something you like, Ken said. Give up something you don’t like about yourself.
He had us write down what we’d like to give up. I wrote “bitterness” on a piece of paper, rolled it up and buried it in a bowl of sand put out for that purpose as I accepted ashes on my forehead.
Being bitter is easy. Not being bitter right after a divorce took some effort. Every time I caught myself, I’d say “At least no one nailed you to a cross.” By Easter, I’d learned to not be bitter. I didn’t pick it back up once Lent was over.
Last year, I gave up giving into anger, especially while I’m behind the wheel. I put the slip of paper I wrote that down on in the ashtray of my car, to serve as a reminder.
If you think giving up being bitter is hard, try giving up giving in to anger sometime.
No more, “Hey, are you waiting for that sign to turn green?” “If you want to drive that slow, get a bike, buddy.” (I rarely say buddy, so use your imagination there.) “Blinker. It’s called a blinker dipstick. Use it some time.”
It wasn’t easy, but I did it. And I didn’t pick it back up after Easter.
This year, there was no sermon. Church elders led the service and in place of a sermon was a liturgical reading of Isaiah Chapter 58. Read it when you have some free time. It, too, deals with the kinds of sacrifices that God wants from us. Chocolate is not involved.
I won’t tell you what I am giving up for Lent this year because it’s too early and I don’t want to jinx it. I’m on a roll and you have to respect a streak.
I will tell you that the fried chicken I had for supper before the service at Puckett’s Grocery across the street from church was good, though. And I’m looking forward to a Whataburger cheeseburger when I pass through Birmingham on Friday. (They don’t call us protestants for nothing, you know.)