Every Tuesday I lead both a wellness program and a worship service at St. John's on the Lake, a retirement community here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With today being Ash Wednesday, I focussed our wellness discussion at the retirement community yesterday on the season of Lent. I gave some of the history of Lent and reminded everyone that this season is a time for us to be more reflective and intentional in regards to our spiritual life. It is a time for us to give something up, and/or to take something one, such as a spiritual discipline. In retrospect, I got a little long winded in my remarks. When I was finished, a ninety-two year old woman raised her hand. I asked Jean what was on her mind. She said, kindly, but wisely, “All that talk about Lent sounds pretty fancy. But if you ask me, Lent can be summed up in two words.” Of course, the group of twenty all wanted to know what those two words were. Jean then offered a much better description of the essence of Lent than the long winded explanation I had just given, but saying that Lent is simply a time to, “Shape up!” When we talk about getting in shape we are usually referring to the physical dimension of our wellness. Starting or expanding an exercise program, or changing our eating habits will help us get in better shape. When my ninety-two year old friend Jean summed up Lent as “shape up” I don't think she was thinking about a person's physical wellness, as important as that may be. Jean was talking about our spiritual wellness. And as the rest of the group joined in our discussion yesterday, the discussion expanded to talking about Lent as a time to shape up our emotional wellness (a time to “fast” from criticism, one person suggested) and our relational wellness (a suggestion was made to make amends with those with whom we are in conflict).
Shape up! This is what Lent invites us to do. Lent offers us the chance to shape up our spiritual, emotional and relational wellness. Perhaps you find yourself carrying a little extra emotional weight these days? What a great time work through that and to shape up. Have you lost some flexibility and become a bit rigid in an important relationship in your life? It might be time to do some stretching exercises and in the process, shape up. Are you feeling a little spiritually week and sluggish right now? It might be time to try some new exercises, some new routines, to strengthen your soul and in the process shape up.
Your local congregation offers plenty of opportunities to get yourself in shape this time of year. As my pastor, the Rev. Gary Manning explained so well this past Sunday, all these extra offering are not intended to be one more thing for you to feel guilty about not doing, but just the opposite--they are offered as a source of rest, refreshment, and nourishment for your spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being. And know that whatever shape you currently find yourself in, you are welcome just as you are. All you need to bring is an open heart, an open soul, and a genuine desire to.........shape up.