From kindergarten to third grade I went to a small Catholic school on the island of Oahu. Since my parents raised me as a protestant, you could imagine my mother’s surprise when I would come home with ashes on my forehead talking about Lent. That last year, while in third grade, I remember her voraciously rubbing the ashes away, saying that we didn’t do ‘Ash Wednesday’.
I couldn’t imagine why not. After all, wasn’t it a mark of repentance? Did Catholics and Protestants believe in the same Jesus?
Fast forward 30 years, I overheard my mother and sister talking about what they were giving up for Lent. I did a double take thinking, ‘What?’.
Since when did my family do Lent? Apparently, my mom, who was so uptight about the traditions of another religion, had come to the realization that Lent was a beautiful way to practice her faith and sacrifice for Christ.
I remember being so proud of her. I even did a mental fist pumping thinking, ‘all right, mom!’ However, that year I didn’t join them in their plight to give something up for Lent. I didn’t want to do it without careful consideration of what this meant for my walk. Was it important to me? If so, what did it mean for me?
As I tuned into conversations around me, I noticed some of my co-workers, friends, and acquaintances complaining about giving anything up for Lent. (my sister and mother do not fall into that category – they gave up a habit or food with a grateful heart)
The water cooler talk was peppered with comments that were borderline complaints that they couldn’t wait till Lent was over. Going without whatever they gave up was making life very hard – too hard. One woman, who gave up champagne, even went as far to say that she had started drinking wine to get her through.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this in judgment at all. These are just observations of what level of commitment it takes for something as significant as this. I admire anyone that wants to make a choice to give up anything for Lent, but I wasn’t sure some of their choices were for me.
The following year, I prayed for wisdom as to what I was to give up. Not that giving up chips, chocolate, or champagne isn’t a real struggle for some – but I wanted to do something that would give me a spiritual lift. I didn’t want to give up something which would only accomplish reminding me about what I was missing. I didn’t want my focus to be on chocolate or chips for the next six weeks. After all, isn’t the point to be focused on our faith and our God when giving something up?
Finally, after a few days of prayer, God spoke. And what was laid on my heart was that I was to give up … doubt.
Doubt? How do you do that? Doubt penetrates our lives! We never feel good enough. We, humans, constantly second guess our choices and ourselves multiple times a day. Doubt, which is an intangible yet permeating factor in our lives, is a constant for many of us. Some of us thrive on it. It even pushes us – sometimes to do things we couldn’t fathom. The doubt that we feel for our success pushes us that much harder to take the next step. Or it freezes us on our path preventing us from that next great step.
How could I give up doubt? How do I even wrap my head around that? But if He’s asked me to do it then I knew I had to try. So for six weeks, I let go of my head and the logic behind any circumstance that had doubt creeping into my heart. I led with my heart and told my head to stop thinking so much.
The second I felt that niggling little monster that crept up from within or washed over my thought – I gave it up by saying a simple prayer: ‘God help me. Take this away because I’m taking a step forward here even though I’m afraid.’
The first few times were hard. When I felt I wasn’t good enough I forged forth. And, I can only explain it as this – God gave me a visual of a door. One, that I could step through. The result was that once on the other side (past my doubt) I felt his peace flooding my heart.
Now I won’t pretend that it was a simple or easy process. Fear and doubt go hand in hand. But what is faith if your fear holds you back?
I won’t pretend that heaven shone down with the audible ‘ahh’ sound with my first attempt at giving up doubt. But I will say that the more I practiced – the easier it became. The more willing I was to give up doubt – the faster my faith was bolstered.
And by the end of the six weeks, I found that this had become a welcome habit. I didn’t have to focus on letting go – I just did. Stepping past the door of doubt had become engrained to whom I was and am today.
In result, God has blessed me immensely with a more stable relationship with Him. And shouldn’t that be what giving something up is all about? I didn’t want to give something up just to go back to it at the end of this.
I don’t want to make light of giving up candy for six weeks. This is a true sacrifice for a ton of people! It allows them the time to focus on why they’ve given up their favorite treat. And they may feel exactly the way I did at the end of my path. Each person needs to walk their own path according to what they’re convicted of doing.
However, I’m challenging you. I realize Lent is still going on this week … but as Lent closes and Easter approaches – consider giving up doubt on a daily basis with God’s plan for your life in mind. Pray for wisdom, guidance, and strength. And every time doubt comes crashing down – lift your head up with a faithful heart and give it to God. It is life changing!