Up until this year, even though I always acknowledged the meaning behind Lent, attended church every Sunday and made what I thought were sacrifices, I was selfish and hardly altruistic during this time of year. Growing up, I didn’t mind that us Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. It just meant that my family was able to go out for a world-renowned Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry, which was often times the best part of my week.  I never felt I was being deprived of anything. As a result, I stopped looking at the real reason behind no-meat on Fridays and instead looked forward to fried cod, French fries, tartar sauce, coleslaw, bread and apple sauce.

As the years went on, I recognized the importance of giving up other things during the season. For a few consecutive years, I gave up Ketchup. This may sound completely ridiculous, but as I have explained to my roommates, this truly was a sacrifice and a struggle. I could give the little boy from the movie Big Daddy a run for his money on who loved the condiment more. But even then, I was never doing it for my Lord or to prepare for Easter. I was doing it to lose weight. I always joked with my mom that I loved Lent because I dropped about 5lbs. The sacrifices I was making were in reality not sacrifices at all. I used Lent merely as a means to an end, choosing not to look more closely at why I was giving up something in the first place.

This year, through my spiritual growth in the Episcopal Service Corps and Jubilee Consortium, I made a tremendous realization. I finally opened my eyes and was awakened to the fact that Lent is not about weight loss, trivial food sacrifices or Friday night Fish Fry. It is not about me at all. Lent is a time to prepare for and commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again in order to save us. I feel foolish to think that for so long I used his selfless love and sacrifice in the wrong way.

This year, I am changing how I approach Lent altogether. I have not given anything up. Instead, I am taking on challenges and trying to bear my own cross. One of my goals for Lent is to be patient as Christ was patient. This transcends through all aspects of my life: at home, at work, on the bus, with my family, friends and even at the grocery store on Sunday afternoons.

The other day I was at the store, attempting to check out, and I noticed that my bus was arriving in 5 minutes. The woman helping me received a phone call during the middle of my transaction, which she took, because it was her daughter. She chatted for a few minutes about how much water her daughter needed to make a pasta (I think it was her daughter’s first time cooking) as I began to nervously check my GoMetro app, counting down the minutes until the bus would surely pass me up. Any other day I might have interrupted her conversation and said, “I’m really sorry but I’m going to miss my bus – could you finish checking me out?” But I didn’t. I could tell in her face that she was so thrilled to be offering her daughter advice and receive that phone call. I reassessed the situation and didn’t want to rush her. I had nowhere to be. Another bus would eventually come. I waited until she got off the phone, finished the transaction, and made it to the bus stop with a few moments to spare. Although this may seem like a trivial example, the smallest moments are often times the most important. They serve as a foundation for the bigger picture.

I am also attempting to meditate or dedicate at least 5 additional minutes of silence and prayer to God every day. I am accustomed to praying when I attend church or every night before I go to bed, but now I find myself holding conversations with God and offering him praise throughout the day. In less than a week, I already feel like our bond is growing and I have seen tremendous improvements in my daily life. I feel happier and more at peace.

Finally, I am offering all of my suffering and frustrations to God during this time. I am letting go and letting him take the wheel. There have been many curveballs thrown at me this year in terms of health, family, etc., and in the past I was always angry with God for making me face adversity and difficult times. In my daily life, I find myself frustrated with Los Angeles (on public transportation, in my job, at the store, etc). Through the help of my peers and my own understanding, I now realize that I must suffer as Jesus suffered. The suffering is what makes us great. It is what makes the good times, good. There is nothing I cannot handle with God by my side. Even when Jesus thought his cross was too heavy to carry, dropping it as he walked, he picked himself up and kept moving forward. In other words – I am trying to thank God every day for everything, knowing that he will continue to help me on my path.

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This Lent, I’m giving up my worries about money. If this sounds like an unspecific and unattainable discipline to you, you should take a look at my budget spreadsheet. This ridiculously detailed spreadsheet is left over from the years where I primarily worked as a freelancer, when paychecks were sporadic and varied in size. Keeping a careful eye on my bank accounts helped me plan for the lean months.

Now I have a steady job, with enough money to pay the bills, but I still find myself worrying about money. When my husband and I finish our graduate studies and look for more permanent jobs, will we find something that pays enough to support us as a family?

Of course, budgeting is not a bad thing, in and of itself. Neither is dreaming about the future. But I feel that both of these are taking me farther away from God and my trust in God’s provision. After all, I remember what Jesus reminded his disciples, many of whom had left behind their own jobs to follow him:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)

So for the next forty days, my spreadsheet is off-limits. My husband will be taking care of the bills I usually pay. And when my usual worries about the future crop up, I hope to replace them with prayer. This Lent, I will try to live into Jesus’ words of comfort, as best I can.

Hello St. Stephen’s and friends!

My name is Brian Cerney, and I am one of the 25 Episcopal Urban Interns working around Greater Los Angeles. This Lenten season I have decided to periodically record my progress in keeping my chosen discipline. I’ll be sharing my experience with the St. Stephen’s community, so be on the lookout for updates.

This Lenten Season, rather than giving something up, I’ve decided to take on two disciplines: daily spiritual practice and daily preparation of at least one meal. I chose these two disciplines because a) I believe they are important and should be a part of my everyday life, and b) by the end of a long day, they are often little more than an afterthought. After working with middle schoolers at EXCEL Charter Academy for upwards of 10 hours, I’m usually drained and just want to sit down with some fast food and zone out on the internet. But that sort of Path-of-Least-Resistance living isn’t what this Year of Service is about, nor is it the sort of lifestyle I want to call my own. I’m hoping that adding them to my daily routine this Lenten Season will help turn them into habits that continue on indefinitely.

The parameters for my disciplines are as follows:

– Daily Spiritual Practice: This can be any activity that I find spiritually nourishing. Prayer, meditation, attending a religious service, playing music – whatever! The goal is simply to take some time each day to engage in something that lifts the soul. During the course of the season I also hope to take part in some spiritual practices that I’m not as familiar with (for example, Taize prayer) as well as attend at least one worship service of a religious denomination that I’ve never experienced before.

– Daily Preparation of At Least One Meal: Here we are using the word “preparation” pretty loosely. This could mean cooking a full meal from scratch or just making myself a sandwich for lunch. Heating something up in the microwave or oven doesn’t count, even if they’re leftovers from a previously cooked meal. I would also like at least one prepared meal a week to be something I’ve never cooked before.

I’m excited to take on these challenges, and I hope you’ll check back to see how I’m doing. With that said, good luck to all in your personal Lenten disciplines!

All the best,

Brian Cerney

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The intersection just outside my window always seems to be busy. Horns honk, sirens wail and a number of people are always running late. Nothing is relaxed but always in a rush or actions done out of anxiousness. I see the stop signs that no one obeys and the litter scattered along the sidewalk. I also see the trees blossoming, the dog walkers, and the families strolling to preschool. Calm and genteelness exists along side the anxiety and noise. These remind me that God is ever present, especially when there are things that do not represent the love that God preaches. Even if I don’t find it in the scenery, then I will try find it in the people and myself.

– Kim Ellsworth

Hi Friends of St. Stephen’s!

My name is Kim Ellsworth and I am this year’s Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP) intern at St. Stephen’s and Jubilee Consortium. This blog is where we are going to be reflecting on Lent and how taking on a discipline impacts our faith, our relationships, and our relationship with God.

For my Lenten discipline this year, I am going to take a picture every day of what I think represents God’s presence in a city that usually does not show it openly. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was astounded by the uncleanliness of the environment and the pain of the people despite the bright and warm weather. I wanted to help but I admit, I fell into a gloom thinking that nothing I did would change it. I have emerged from that place, but I want to take this time of reflection to document and explore how God shows up in places we would normally not think to look.

This photo, for example is what I will be reflecting on and discussing for my future lenten posts. Finding the beauty among the seemingly unimportant or dreary.

 

I am asking those in the community to explore with me. Are you giving anything up or taking something on? Have you participated in past Lenten disciplines? I would like to compile the experiences and perspectives of our church family and friends to post on Facebook and the website to share with the community and one another.

Please let me know if you would like to contribute to St. Stephen’s Lenten postings through writing, videos, songs, photos, or any other medium that best explains your story. Our goal is to collectively post at least one thing for each of the 40 days in Lent.

Thank you and I hope to hear from all of you!

Kim Ellsworth