First Sunday in Lent 2021: "The Voice"

First Sunday in Lent 2021: "The Voice"

February 21, 2021 | Ryan Arnold

Passage: Mark 1:9-15

    I lay there, wide awake, suddenly aware of any sound that dare pierce the darkness. The breath of my wife was barely audible; she inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again. The creak of heating ducts, circulating warmth into the night air. The quiet night breeze, meandering through trees right outside. The gentle whisper of bed linens rustling, ever-so-slightly, under the vibration of anything that moved.

    I wondered what it was, this time, that had roused me. Was it one of the kids, in the room, also unable to sleep? Usually they went to Kathi first. Was it a deer outside our window, newly discovered by the family dog, excitedly barking her alarm?

    Slowly realizing there was no external source to point to, my thoughts shifted inward. Normally a deep sleeper, usually it takes a mountain of noise to rouse me. And yet here I lay, in an otherwise near-silent home, now wide awake.


    I hate it when this happens. Fully conscious when I should be deep in slumber. REM cycle now interrupted for who knows how long. There would be no dream state forthcoming anytime soon.

    Now to figure out what to do.
    In the past I’d tried all sorts of possible cures.

    Counting sheep.

    Sometimes they work, sometimes not.

    Prescription pills.

    Each had been attempted, to varying degrees of success.

    Candy Crush.
    The New York Times.

    My cell phone’s blue LED light blinked on the nightstand.
    Reminding me that these were options too.

    Once, a decade ago, insomnia had been a near-constant companion for months. Fortunately, those days have passed.

    But still, I was reminded what was at stake. Insomnia, left unaddressed, had been rough.

    I’d beat myself up over it before.
    I was determined not to do that again.

    We look to improve what lies deep within in myriads of ways. This time of year especially. The Lenten season we find ourselves in is a time for introspection, reflection, sacrifice. In these forty days we walk, symbolically, alongside Christ, perhaps more intentionally than usual. Hoping to change our ways, to be more like him.

    The kickoff to Lent reminds me of New Year’s Day. We love to make deals with ourselves to improve. So we commit to doing more of something, or less, or doing it differently. In the hopes of bettering ourselves, helping others, enhancing the world.

    They are high ideals we strive for.

    And let’s be honest, you’ve got better odds of making a meaningful life change over 40 days then you do over 365!

    Culturally we’ve engaged in these sacrificial acts over Lent for centuries. Often we give up chocolate. It’s a reminder that living in the wilderness, awash in temptation, for 40 days, is anything but sweet.

    A 2019 study reported on in The Atlantic found that, among those giving something up, the most common sacrifices for Lent are social media (21%), alcohol (18%), chocolate or sweets (13%), and soda or coffee (11%).

    It’s fair to say that each of those, in excess, just aren’t good for us.

    In modernity Lenten sacrificial practices can be just about anything. I asked Facebook friends what they’re doing to commemorate the season, and each response was different from the next. Of course anyone that’s given up social media wouldn’t have been able to reply to the query, so there’s that.

    Among people that shared their stories some are spending their Lent listening, reading, reflecting. Steph started listening to the Bible in a Year podcast. Jo is reading the Poetry of Lent by Mary Oliver. Ryan – that’s a seminary friend, not me – is watching The Good Place tv series, while contemplating his mortality.

    Others observe the season with improving themselves by doing. Lindsay gave up take-out food, adding oatmeal for breakfast. Carolynn is looking to live more simply, sorting one box of papers per day, with the hopes of rising to new levels of simply living by Easter. Kathy is encouraging her congregation to add one thing to their lives that brings them joy – the fasting this year is from isolation itself.

    Maryanne remembers as a child her mother would always give up smoking for Lent. But just at work. Every day she’d come home and fire one up.

    Others observe the season by doing for others. Kate started donating blood. Laura is walking 40 miles in 40 days, and getting rid of 40 items, with proceeds benefiting the ELCA World Hunger program.

    The Weber family is adding in a practice by using a Lenten Kindness calendar. Each night they gather together for the provided reading and plan out how to complete the next day’s kindness challenge. I absolutely love that.

    Jonathan is doing a bit of everything, including:
    • Giving up drinking alone (to enjoy, not need)
    • Giving up watching The Office (to not get addicted to escapism)
    • Donating to charity
    • Taking the Confirmation kids on a service project to the food pantry
    • Nixing fast food on Fridays (to remember Christ’s sacrifice), and
    • Being more intentional with prayer and meditation
    That’s a long list Jon! Make sure you spend some time sleeping too. It really is important. </div>                      </div>
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