Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Greet the Morning Together (SOTC 89/365)

Greet the Morning Together (SOTC 89/365) by gina.blank

Because sometimes when you ask God for pretty colours,
He says "sure!"

(What I do with photos, my mom does with fabric.)

SOTC 88/365

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why I Don't Want to Know What You're Doing for Lent

I don't keep it a secret on social media (or anywhere) that I am a Christian, but it's not something I explicitly shout from the rooftops, either. So, it's a little strange for me to be posting a very intentionally faith-based read, but it's something that's been bugging me about the Christian community, as a whole, for the last few years.

We all know that this generation of adults tends to carry the mentality of "who needs privacy, anyway?" The internet has not helped this. We will share almost anything on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Even when we recognize that we should probably work to keep some aspects of our lives behind closed doors.

I don't have statistics, but from my experience, Christians are not much better than the rest of the population. We are human, after all. But we are called to a higher standard, and I challenge us to consider that during this upcoming season of Lent.

Several years ago, as part of a small group I attended, we read Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline. It took us through several spiritual disciplines, examining their value and how we could be more intentional about practicing each. To be fair, there is much of the content that I don't specifically remember. But I do remember that the conversation around the spiritual discipline of fasting stuck out for me. There is a whole chapter that talks about fasting and how one might go about it, especially if one has never fasted before.

While Richard was referring to food throughout the chapter, the study guide and video encouraged conversation about fasting from other things--media, spending, etc. There was also discussion about Lent as a time of fasting, as we often fast from things other than food during this time.

In the chapter, Richard refers to Matthew 6:1-18 as he writes:

"It should go without saying that you should follow Jesus' counsel to refrain from calling attention to what you are doing. The only ones who should know you are fasting are those who have to know. If you call attention to your fasting, people will be impressed and, as Jesus said, that will be your reward. You, however, are fasting for far greater and deeper rewards."

For example, if we are fasting from sweets, and a colleague brings in a cake, and invites us to share in it, we are to say a simple "no, thank you" or "I'm good, thanks." There is no need to explain ourselves by saying that we can't have cake because we are fasting.

We do the latter with dieting as a subtle (or not so subtle) way to toot our own horns, to show others, see? I can stick with my diet plan, aren't I doing well?

But fasting is not dieting.

We ought not to seek attention for it from others.

Now, that being said, does it mean that we should never tell others about our spiritual practices? I don't think that's true, either. As an example, growing up, our family often shared our chosen Lenten practices with each other. There was one year we even chose practices for each other. This was not so we could draw attention to what we were choosing; we were holding each other accountable as a family. We engaged in conversation about the intention behind the fast, as well as the subsequent spiritual growth.

I think that's totally appropriate.

What I'm not convinced is appropriate is announcing our Lenten practices on Facebook and similar social platforms. Unless all 368 of your Facebook friends are so close to you that they will use that knowledge to hold you accountable and engage you in reflective conversation about your spiritual growth, I think such sharing of information is largely just for attention. Look how good a Christian I am, I'm staying away from X for forty whole days!*

How is that anyone else's business?

"Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Matt. 23:12). This is one of those countercultural truths we forget again and again. Society gives attention and adoration to those who speak up, share their story. But it is stated more than once in Scripture that these people may have their moment in the spotlight, but it is the humble who will ultimately be exalted.

It is true that I can't actually judge the intention behind other people's sharing. Perhaps sharing your Lenten fast of choice on Facebook really is the only way you will be able to keep accountable to it. There are blogs I've stumbled upon where the author has put out a recommended Lenten practice for others to follow and/or contribute towards.** Perhaps, for some people, sharing and seeing what other Christians are doing is motivating and conducive to spiritual growth.

Way, Truth, Life (SOTC 36/365) by gina.blankSo I'm not saying there may not be an appropriate place to let others know what you're doing for Lent. What I'm saying is, what is the intention behind the sharing? What are the motives of your heart?

And when we go to ask others, "what are you giving up for Lent?" we also need to consider the reason for asking them to share. Do we know this person well enough that we are asking out of interest for their spiritual well-being? Are we making Christian small-talk? Or are we just starting a conversation so that we have a reason to share what we're doing?

What are our intentions?

So, as a general rule, what you practice during Lent is none of my business. It is between you and Jesus. And maybe an accountability partner--whose role is not to just give you a pat on the back when you're abstaining from whatever it is, but who challenges you on the days when it's tough. And continues to do so far after Lent has ended.

When someone asks, "so, what are you doing for Lent?" telling them is actually the easy answer. I think it's far more difficult--but far more necessary--to respond, "I know you're curious, but I'm keeping Lent between Jesus and myself this year."

Thanks for your understanding.

* Also to keep in mind, as an adult, Lent should not JUST be a simple giving up of something--it needs to be more.
** This practice even intrigues me, though not the sharing part.