By Rowan Wyatt
“Ten girls were waiting for the bridegroom, lamps in hand to light his way when he arrived, but five of them hadn’t prepared and were not ready for his arrival”.
So begins the famous parable in the Gospel of Matthew. A cautionary story about making sure you are ready when the time comes, at the return of Jesus, the end of things. I also look at it as a Lenten parable, looking at the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday where we as Christians are to prepare ourselves for the risen Christ.
Lent is a time of preparation and taking stock of your life and spiritual journey, looking at yourself as in a full length mirror and taking it all in. Looking at yourself as Jesus sees you, a loved child for sure but also draped with yellow warning tape reading “Still Under Construction”. There is always work to do in you and while care should be taken to continue this progress daily in our lives, Lent gives us a real opportunity to dig in, making sure we are as prepared as possible.
I propose your arsenal for the time of Lent to consist of three things: – A Bible, a mental shovel and a spiritual broom. These tools will help with the six life-giving disciplines of Lent: prayer, penance, repentance, alms-giving, atonement and self-denial.
Lent is a time to dig deep. Use that mental shovel to work your way deeper in prayer and build firmer foundations with God, a relationship with the Father in Heaven. Eschew the quick-fire prayer of the “don’t have the time” brigade and make time for God. Dig past the surface further and look deeper into your own heart and prayerfully seek penance and repentance. This will be tough work indeed and will cause some blisters and a few tears along the way, especially in the act of atonement, but these acts will become the cement in the foundations of that Godly relationship between Father and child, as in the parable of the prodigal son.
We all, most of us, give regularly to charities of one kind or another. If this is something you don’t do, then Lent is the perfect time to start. Dig deep and pray about which charity and how much financially or even how much time physically, you can afford. Alms giving can be just as valuable if it is volunteering for a few hours at a shelter or program, sometimes more so. The gifting is returned with each freely given sacrifice, time or money, with a sense of spiritual joy and a relieved feeling of a job well done, especially when the fruits of the alms giving is observed. The giving, freely, of such mercy is a part of this preparation period and is wholly recommended.
So now we come to a Lenten sticking point, self-denial.
For so many Lent has become a time to give up chocolate, having a beer whilst watching a game, eat fewer steaks etc, and while for some these can actually be very important, life changing acts, they are not the entirety of the Lenten pilgrimage. Self-denial is so much more than that and it is a very deep, powerful act that should never be used as just an excuse to lose a bit of weight just to feel slightly better about oneself. No, self-denial is an important discipline that helps firm those foundations of the relationship with God.
The act of self-denial should be a full inventory in the mind of everything you do that you know is not right. Viewing salacious material, casual blasphemy, hatred, anger, lust, theft, the list goes on and only you can know which thought patterns, daily habitual sins, need to be swept away and dumped in the trash can, thus bringing in another aspect of repentance. Fasting is a good thing and should be encouraged during this period, including giving up chocolate or beer if that is something you wish to do but just don’t make that one thing the epitome of your Lenten journey.
“All ten girls had fallen asleep waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive and when he was spotted they roused. The five who had prepared for his arrival lit their lamps while the other five hurried about trying to rush the job, to no avail. The girls with the lit lamps were invited into the banquet while the others were shut outside”. Matthew 25 my paraphrasing.
So make ready. This Lenten period equip yourself and being the six-week journey to welcome the risen Christ in prepared mind, body and spirit.
Thanks, Rowan – that was very helpful -I did not grow up with observing Lent in our churches – I only started the 15 years or so. You have filled in some helpful details for me. I have been taught and encouraged by your piece.