March 2022 Branch Article by Nicholas Hopkins
Lent is a season of "inviting God to unearth in us what lies fallow, what needs to be tended, and what needs to die for new life to emerge ... embracing the literal and spiritual practices of cultivating and letting go” (A Sanctified Art).
During the forty days of Lent, the church often practices sacrifice. Perhaps you’ve done this, perhaps you’ve given something up: chocolate, coffee, coke, or cakes. Why have you let go of the things that you have? Did you let go of such things because you wanted to drop a few pounds? Did you let go of such things because that’s what was expected in your social and spiritual communities? Or did you let go of such things in order to free up time in which you could cultivate practices that would contribute to your spiritual growth and sanctification?
This year however, before asking what you’re going to let go, I suggest you ask what you feel called to cultivate. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster outlines twelve disciplines which you could consider: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Then, after discerning what you will seek to cultivate (from Foster’s list or another), you could ask what (if anything) you should let go of in order to aid you in cultivating the desired discipline. For example, if you will seek to cultivate the discipline of celebration, what thing(s) would be best to let go? Brownies? Blogs? Blame?
Yes, Lent is traditionally a time of penitence and prayer, of repentance and regret, of wilderness and wandering. More importantly, however, Lent is a time of growth and groundwork ... a time of preparation. Lent should truly be a season of sanctification, which is the work of both cultivating and letting go. My professors at seminary would talk a lot about justification and sanctification. Justification is the process by which we are made righteous in God’s sight. Justification is 100% the work of God. You nor I have anything we can offer to bring about our own salvation. Sanctification, however, is the process by which we are made holy and is 100% God’s work and 100% our work! God definitely maintains an active role in our sanctification, but to deny our own responsibility in the process of
becoming more holy would be negligent.
So, as we enter this Lenten season, discerning what God might want to unearth in us (as individuals and as a church family) - what lies fallow, what needs to be tended, and what needs to die for new life to emerge - and as we seek to embrace the literal and spiritual practices of cultivating and letting go, let us focus first on what we will cultivate to then determine what we may let go of - to that end. Let go not for the sake of letting go. Let go in order to reap the benefits of the chore that is cultivation.