Guess what it’s time for? GIVING UP YOUR SINS. No, really. Look at the liturgical calendar. If not now, then when? On your deathbed? I don’t like the odds. What if your bus falls off a cliff, and your dying words are less “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and more “Aieeeeeee!”?
Anyway, if you do manage to repent at the very last minute, why would you want to live most of your life in bondage? We sometimes think of giving up our sins as giving up the stuff that’s fun, the stuff that makes us free, the stuff that’s easy and enjoyable. And that may be so, in the very short term. But if you continue hanging onto your same old sins year after year, without making any attempt to get rid of them, they do what all things do in this life, when they hang around too long: They start to stink.
You don’t want that. You don’t want to shuffle through another Lent, passing up the opportunity to do a deep clean, and to step free of that cloud of stink. So here’s what I suggest:
Give up your enemies.
You may think you don’t have any, but I’m certain you do. Even if you’re overall a friendly, open person, and even if there’s no one you’re openly warring with or frostily snubbing, there are people whose name makes a shadow cross over your sky. Whether it’s their fault or yours – or, most likely, some combination of the two – these are people with whom you are not at peace. When they are around, your peace is disturbed. You know who I mean.
So give them up. Or, more properly, give them up to God. That’s the only way you’ll find peace between the two of you. You don’t know how to do it; He does. You may not want to do it; He does. And He will, if you ask Him.
How do you give someone up to God? Pray for them. And here’s the kicker: Just pray for their well-being. Not “Lord, please teach this pathetic creep to repent,” or “In Jesus’ name, we ask healing for so-and-so, because only a malformed jackass would act the way he acts.” Holy Spirit is not impressed.
Ask instead for your enemy’s healing from back pain or from the flu. Ask for him to feel God’s love in an unmistakable way that day. Ask for him to be happy and whole. And if you find yourself straying into a more passive aggressive prayer as you think about this person, just say, “Amen!” and move along with your day.
You could even make a list, and assign a certain name to each day of Lent. Any time you happen to think of it all day long, send up a little prayer for the enemy of the day. If you find yourself filling up the calendar very readily, maybe having to double up to fit all your enemies in . . . well, maybe it’s time to re-think how you approach the world in general. It’s normal to have some enemies. It’s not normal to have so many that your pen runs out of ink before you get them all down.
If you do come up with lots of names? Here’s another suggestion: Pair them up with someone you do like, someone you do find it easy to wish well, and pray for that person all day long, as well. If you spend time thinking about people you love, people you admire, people you are glad to have in your life, it may help realign your attitude toward humanity. It may remind you of what kind of person you aspire to be.
But thinking about them is not the real point. Prayer isn’t just a private mental exercise or a psychological trick to retrain your neurons into healthier paths. Prayer is an actual conversation with God, who is actually listening, and who knows what you mean and what you want and what you need far better than you do yourself. Prayer will heal wounds that you didn’t know existed; prayer will soothe hurts you didn’t want to acknowledge; prayer will make connections you never even considered were possible.
And prayer will make you clean. “A clean heart, create for me, o God . . . ” That’s how I start my morning prayer. Clean out my heart, take over my burdens, transform my desires, and fill me up with something better, Lord.
So give your enemies to God this Lent. Give your friends to God, too. And give yourself to God, by spending time every day in prayer this Lent. What have you got to lose? Nothing you need.