Pastor Tim Oslovich
Lent is sometimes seen as a time of “giving things up.” We give up chocolate or beer or meat or social media. Those are not bad things to do. When we give things up, we help ourselves realize that we are not self-sufficient. We need God, and we need other people.
Lent is sometimes also seen as a time to do more things – especially more “things for God.” However, there’s no way that we can add a whole bunch of things – even very good things like prayer and Bible study and caring for the poor – to our already over-stretched schedules and slow down. In order to have a “slow Lent,” we need to give some things up. In order to slow down, we need to do less, and, for most of us, that probably means doing less good things. Of course, feel free to give up the bad things you’re doing and the neither-good-nor-bad things that occupy a lot of your time. (If you can be more efficient in taking out the garbage and save a few minutes, by all means, go right ahead.) But my guess is that most of us have filled our lives to over- flowing with “good things.” Work, play, volunteering, a few minutes of relaxing here and there (don’t give these up), talking to friends on the phone, keeping up with Facebook, going to meetings (I know you want to give up a few of these), watching the UConn women on TV, etc. – all these activities fill our hours and days. And they’re not bad things for the most part. Sure, some meetings are a waste of time, some work is drudgery, and too much Facebook can be a deadly distraction, but for most of us, work is necessary, many meetings do accomplish things, and Facebook lets me keep in touch with my friends in Africa on the cheap. (Just take Facebook off your phone so you don’t end up mindless scrolling through your newsfeed every time you have a few extra minutes.) We can make more time available by giving up some not-so- good things – one episode of I Love Lucy is enough, don’t watch three or four – but we’ll also have to give up some good things if we’re really going to slow down, if we’re really going to make room for the best things.
A “slow Lent” might be our gift to ourselves and to others when we do a little less, pray a little more, eat a bit more slowly, take time to share love, to encourage one another in our faith, and – to rest. Rest is one of the most God-honoring things we can “do.” Or perhaps it’s better to say that having a time of “not doing,” of just “being” with God is one of the best ways to get closer to God. That was and is the point of the Sabbath, the day of rest.
Our culture often tries to denigrate rest and label it as “laziness.” Being “busy” is held in high esteem and workaholics get kudos. But are we really benefiting anyone by stacking up 14 hour days and only sleeping for 5 hours a night? Theologically, we know the answer is “no.” We know that even though God invites us to work with him, he does not consider us to be slaves that must work ceaselessly for him. There is a sense in which we are God’s servants – God is in charge and God is in control. Yet, that metaphor only takes us so far. We need to avoid the temptation to start thinking, “If I won’t, then God can’t.” Sorry to break your bubble, but God can accomplish his goals without you or me. However, we are called and invited to work with God to do all kinds of good in the world. Remember, Jesus says to his disciples (and thus to
those of us who continue to follow him today), “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
Even some people in the business world are starting to learn that working more and more isn’t the recipe for success much less for a good life. In Rework, the successful creators of the company 37 signals make it clear that workaholics don’t do anybody any favors: “Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve. First off, working like that just isn’t sustainable over time. When the burnout crash comes— and it will— it’ll hit that much harder…. In the end, workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than non-workaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done” (Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, pp. 25-6). Think about it. How productive and kind are you after you’ve had a few nights with only 3-4 hours of sleep? Maybe there are some benefits to rest and slowing down.
In the end, though, the main benefit of a “slow Lent” – or slowing down in general – is a deeper life, a better relationship with God and better relationships with others. Although we are made in such a way that we find a lot of meaning in our work and what we do, we often forget that rest and simply “being” or “being with” is probably even more important. Perhaps this is illustrated by the often over-looked fact that the first full day which humans enjoyed was the Sabbath. Re-read Genesis 1:26-2:4. Humanity is created at the end of the sixth day, and God rests on the seventh. The clear implication is that humanity didn’t do any work that day, either. God had already done all the heavy lifting. God and humankind simply spent some time being together. We often think of the “week end” as the time of rest after a full week of work. Maybe it is for God. But for us, for humans, we start with a day off. Do you think God might be subtly trying to tell us something?
I invite you to try doing less and having a “slow Lent.” And if that means not adding on more congregational activities but instead means going to sleep half an hour earlier so you can get up half an hour earlier and enjoy the early morning saying, “Thank you, Jesus” as you enjoy the sunrise and a cup of coffee, that’s okay.