French Fries and Lent
“French fries and lent?” you ask. What could one possibly have to do with the other? Well, to a fifth or sixth grade girl, some forty years ago, they had a very close tie. In those days fifth and six grades were about the time that young girls began testing their fragile wings of independence.
My best girlfriend, Lynn Hoftiezer, and I had shrieked with delight when a new strip mall (the first of its type in our area) was built just a short walk through the woods and down the hill from my house. Even more exciting for two fledgling independents was the discovery that the brand spanking new Safeway store had a sit down snack bar. Lynn and I looked forward to Friday afternoons when we would pool our vast finances, venture off to the snack bar and make our big purchase. “Two small cokes and one plate of French fries with ketchup, please,” we would say. The sum total of our purchases was a dollar and twenty-six cents…big spenders! I remember feeling the joy of sharing this time of independence with my friend…and…oh, the taste of those French fries right out of the deep fryer…nothing could beat it! Calories weren’t an issue at that point in my life J
We would sit at the counter on our swivel stools and discuss all the important issues of our worlds—what our brothers had most recently done to bug us, how our parents repeatedly embarrassed us, the boys we glanced at from afar, and the successes and challenges of student-life. It was a rich time in the growth of our friendship and in our burgeoning development as young women.
When lent rolled around those two years Lynn and I, both actively involved in church and youth activities, wanted to participate in the Lenten practice of self-denial. Choosing to forego our French fries and coke, not to mention the freedom of going to the store on our own, felt like a major sacrifice at the time. I don’t recall if we made it through the whole six weeks without a trip to the snack bar, but I don’t think the success or failure of our Lenten practice was nearly as important as was the desire to intentionally embark upon it.
Forty years ago self-denial was the most common way Christians demonstrated penance for the sins they had committed. Then, as today, I heard people say they were giving up something that served other purposes as well….”I’m giving up chocolate; maybe I’ll loose some weight”…”I’m giving up cigarettes…the doctor told me I need to quit anyway”…and just last week I heard the funniest one yet when a friend quipped, “I’m giving up losing lottery tickets; I’m going to win for a change!”
In recent years churches have started inviting congregants to take on something new for lent. For some that has meant a greater commitment to prayer or devotional reading, attending a personal or group spiritual retreat, or participating in a service project, etc.
So what is the point of giving something up or taking something on at this time? Is this a meaningless exercise? Is it a punishment for our falling short? Or is there something we are to learn in the process?
For many years I interpreted repentance as a way of expressing sorrow for my moral shortcomings—that I had acted in ways that were against the laws of God; and to win back God’s love I had to acknowledge my sinfulness. This was a four-part agreement—I sinned, God withdrew God’s love, I repented of my sins and God loved me again. I no longer look at sinfulness and repentance in this way. Today I perceive sinfulness as falling short of God’s dream for me…as turning away from the fullness of life and being and wholeness that God desires for me and all of God’s creatures.
We are a broken people and we do fall short of God’s dream for us as individuals and as a people. Yet I would like to propose another, more hopeful way of looking at lent and another way of interpreting the repentance to which we are called. In Greek the word for repentance is metanoia, meaning “beyond thinking”—to go beyond our present ways of thinking and acting…to experience a change of heart and a change of mind. Repentance is one more way that God calls us into the fullness of our being.
The “sacrifice”, it seems to me, is releasing our incessant need to control and to accept that God’s dream for us is even greater and more wonderful than we could possibly dream for ourselves. Yet, aligning ourselves with God’s desires for us may call us to leave behind old destructive ways of being—thoughts, behaviors and attitudes that not only hurt us, but hurt others as well. This is a sacrificial act. Yet, when we release ourselves to this process of metanoia we are changed…we become new people…we are born again to a life of greater peace, joy and hopefulness; and we discover the love of Christ flowing more freely within us, through us and around us. This, to me, is what lent is about—opening ourselves up to God’s transforming love, a love that leads us to the depths of our true selves and to the heart of Christ.
May you experience a change of heart and mind this Lenten season.