Lent, in the Christian tradition, is a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, penitence, and self-denial beginning with Ash Wednesday, leading to Easter. The precise nature of the Christian's fasting, self-denial, and participation varies from one believer to another.
Thankfully, this season affords me the opportunity to give up three burdens for Lent, and I pray, forever: beams, gongs, and stones.
Beams: Jesus asked, "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the beam in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite . . . ." (Matthew 7: 3-5)
Gongs: Saint Paul wrote, "If I . . . have not love I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. If I . . . have not love, I am nothing." (I Corinthians 13: 1-2)
Stones: To those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8: 7)
In these narratives, beams, noisy gongs, and stones represent judgment, an unloving spirit, and cruel punishment, respectively. Am I alone in finding it so easy to judge others, to find fault with someone else, while overlooking similar, or different, shortcomings of my own? I confess a critical spirit, ask forgiveness for it, and pray that God will remove from my person the need, desire, and practice of judging others. Judgment, after all, is God's job, not mine. Jesus says, "Judge not." (Matt. 7:1) I am convicted.
Prayer: "Lord, please help me see the beams (plural) in my own eye, and to let you remove them, beginning with the beam of judging others."
Paul acknowledged that faith, prophetic power, knowledge, good works, and possessing spiritual gifts are of no gain to him apart from love. Love, Paul notes, is the greatest gift of all. Without love, we Christians are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs. We are, as the great apostle lamented, nothing.
Prayer: "O God, you are love. I am not. Please forgive my misplaced passions, my self-centered focus, my callous, indifferent heart, my preoccupation with religious show, and my blatantly hypocritical claim to be Christ-like. Please pour such an abundance of love into my hard heart that streams of love will overflow onto others."
Kneeling to write on the ground as the eager men clamored about looking for murdering stones, who knows what Jesus wrote? I don't. I'm pretty sure, however, those syllables in the sand would have pierced my heart. Did he name sins? Did he scribble names beside wrongs? Did he name clandestine relationships? Did he offer to take the woman's place? Who knows?
Who is sinless? Who is qualified to judge? Who holds heaven's approval to cruelly punish another person? Who among us may pick up the first stone?
Prayer: "O Lord, I am armed, heavy stones in each hand. I am tired, tired of carrying judgment and punishment, executing your children. Please Lord, take my stones and give me rest. Replace these stones, I pray, with the Bread of Life that I might hold and offer your grace."
O Lord, for Lent, and forever, please take my beams, my gongs, and my stones, that others may be loved and blessed. Amen.