Wednesday marked the beginning of another Lenten season. If you don’t know what that means, long story (very) short, it’s the 40 days before Easter (Easter being the day we Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and our life triumphant). When I first came to the Lord, I was pretty confused about a lot of things. I came to the Lord on my 17th birthday (that would be December 21, 1989…gulp) and had attended church for most of my life. I had some head knowledge but very little heart knowledge. I wasn’t really discipled and I still continued to attend a church that wasn’t (and still isn’t) what I would call a Bible teaching church. I remember my first Easter season after being born-again, thinking that part of following Christ meant I had to give something up for Lent. My Catholic friends talked about giving up red meat so I decided that it would really please God if I gave up something, too. I also decided that it should be something hard, something that I really, really liked doing or having. Something that would require suffering, after all, wasn’t that what Lent and Easter were about–Jesus’ suffering? I thought about it (key word here–“thought,” not “prayed”) and decided to give up swearing. Some of you who know me now probably can’t imagine that being a problem for me but it was a big one! I never swore in front of my parents or teachers or at church but I could curse like a sailor with my friends and sometimes my brother. I knew all the curse words–big ones, small ones, you name it. I knew them and seasoned my conversations with them.
Everything started out just fine. I was already used to using clean language in front of my parents and teachers. I figured I could just continue doing the same with my friends. That lasted about 3 hours. It was too comfortable, too easy to slide back into old habits. It was especially hard when everyone else was using the same language–even other Christians. I did feel guilty, though. I mean, here I am, a Christian, one of God’s chosen, and I can’t even stop swearing. I redoubled my efforts, determined not to let God down again. This time, though, I had a plan. I remembered my Young Life leader saying one time that when you get rid of a bad habit you have to replace it with another good habit. I decided to create my own “curse” words to replace the bad words I was using. I came up with some good ones, my favorite being “sugar!” My friends teased me relentlessly calling me “that Jesus freak,” which, at the time, felt like such a slander. But, the new swear words worked and I made it through the entire 40 days without “swearing.”
A couple of weeks after Easter, I was at an early morning breakfast Bible study (my first of several) taught by our Young Life leader. Part of the breakfast included fellowship, as a couple of leaders got to know each of us better. Our leader, Doug, was sitting across from me and heard me say my new favorite curse word–“sugar!”–as I dropped my fork on the floor. He laughed and asked me why I used that word that way. Pridefully, I boasted of my Lenten suffering for Christ and my creative way of using the English language. He listened politely and then asked if I would come 30 minutes early to our usual Young Life meeting later in the week. I agreed, assuming that he might want me to give my testimony concerning my “taming of the tongue” as some others had done in the past.
That Thursday evening, I arrived at the meeting early, as arranged. Doug invited me to sit down with another leader, Laura and himself. He then proceeded to show me in the Word what suffering was really about. He and Laura explained what Lent and Easter represented and why we celebrate both. I cannot remember the exact scriptures they shared with me but I’ll never forget the awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. How could I have gotten things so terribly wrong? Not only had I not understood what true suffering was, I had been a poor witness to everyone around me. I was like the Pharisees, cleaning the outside of my cup with “clean language,” but I had not allowed Jesus to clean the inside of my cup, my heart. Not allowing me to feel ashamed, Doug and Laura prayed with me and assured me that God would indeed clean me up from the inside out if I would just let Him do it in His own way and in His own time. I remember feeling so small as worship began and I also remember that being the very first night that I understood how truly big God could be in my life.
Every year since that first Lenten season, I have tried to give something up. Not with the intention of suffering for Christ but so that the Lord will have greater latitude in my heart. Some years have been better than others. My usual prayer is for the Lord to reveal to me something that is impeding intimacy with Him–something that is sitting on the throne of my heart. One year, I gave up long distance phone calls. Another year, I gave up all sweets. The past few years have been harder with the arrival of the little people in my life. Once I simply tried to give up certain ugly thoughts I was having. This year, Charlie and I decided to make it a family affair. We decided to give up something as a family in order to allow God greater access to us. We chose to give up television and movies. We’re not huge TV watchers but our little girls love to watch Disney movies–namely anything with a princess in it. They beg, they plead, they cry to watch these sappy movies over and over. We sat them down and explained the plan and why we are doing this. They received it remarkably well (almost too well, I thought!) and we started our 40 day “adventure” Tuesday evening.
We’ve been reading more, starting a new Henze family tradition of reading a family book together (our first book is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis). Charlie and I are trying to figure out how to play “Sudoku” and the girls are enjoying more one on one time than they’ve had in several months. Are we giving up movies and TV forever (the first question Emma asked, too)? Probably not. But, our prayer is that the Lord will honor our request to draw us closer to Him individually and as a family. That He will reveal His will to us. That He will reveal Himself to us all.
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which comes from God on the basis of faith, so that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.