Is Friendly Enough?


Welcoming isn’t the same as “you belong here.”

Everyone welcomes you when you’re the new one in the group exercise room. Are they friendly, or are they just grateful that someone in the room is going to look dorkier than they do now? Time will tell, especially when they all politely turn aside when you lose your balance doing side kicks.

Whatever the reason, people welcomed me to the three exercise classes I started attending a couple weeks ago. They smiled, pushed mats over the accommodate me, and asked about my morning. I was going to fit in with this group, despite the fact that they all have grey hair and talk about their grandkids. Who cares? We’re all nice people enjoying our morning together.

But Really . . .

Halfway through the class, we walked out onto the track, and I noticed right away that my celebration had been premature. People paired up. They walked together in twos or threes, talking about whatever concerns life had brought them that day. I’m sure they knew one another’s concerns. I’m certain they walked with the people they were accustomed to pairing with—people who had spent time with them and knew them enough to be used to one another.

No one hung back to walk with me. No one chatted with me about silly nothings or major somethings, either one. I walked alone, while the other twelve enjoyed one another’s company.

Is Our Church “Friendly?”

That’s when i realized the difference that many churches never recognize. There is friendly, and there is welcoming someone into belonging. You can welcome someone to church, but are you welcoming them into the life of the church?

It’s so easy to smile and welcome a person but then turn to those we are used to, the ones who know us, and spend our actual interaction time there. A new person is genuinely greeted with friendliness. We sincerely want him or her there. But then we turn to our accustomed habits. We talk to our comfortable friends. We leave the welcomed person to feel on the outside, finding a friendly people but not finding access to their circle of friendship. 

Being Access Givers

A lot of churches need to work on being access-givers. Often we’ve put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that new people find the process of coming to church seamless and simple, but how much work have we put into making sure they feel like they’ve been to a community rather than an IKEA? How often do we open our small circles and invite someone in who’s standing on the outside?

This is the Church
Photo courtesy of Emptyplatefullheart

I’ve been that person on the outside more times than I like to remember. I can tell you—that person is dying for more than a smile and directions to children’s ministry. Here are five ways to make someone feel like she belongs, not like she’s just welcomed.

  • Open the circle. Literally. Look away from your group of friends and find someone who needs to be pulled in. Go to her. She won’t come to you.
  • Ask questions. She isn’t likely to offer a lot of information. She’s nervous. So make her feel you care by asking about her life. What brought you here? What’s your family look like? How long have you lived here?
  • Find a common denominator. Do you have the same age kids, the same work field, equally annoying relatives? Hobbies/ TV shows? You’ll have to talk a while to find out. There is likely to be something you share that forms a bond.
  • Introduce her to someone. Does she crochet? Introduce her to someone else who does. Is she a mechanical engineer? You might know someone with whom she can talk about those things (I would not be that person. Introduce me to the person who can quote Shakespeare or Dr. Who. Doesn’t matter which.)
  • If it seems right and not pushy, invite her to something else. Lunch after church would be marvelous. A MOPS group. Your Bible study or your planned night out for Margaritas. Whatever. 
IMG_6983 2
Going for coffee is always good.

Being friendly is something you can get from a Walmart greeter. Making someone feel they belong is the art and the work of Christian community. Let’s do it to his glory.

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” — Romans 15.5-7

Level One

CFL course, NASWI, Fitness
I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.


Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Dance Like We Just Don’t Care


I went to three exercise classes last week. You might think that is normal. You are just not me. Three exercise classes is more than I have gone to in approximately three hundred years. I don’t do group classes. I don’t like them. I am not peppy or muscle-y, and I am barely scraping the edge of social. I went anyway, because a body that works when I want it to is becoming more important to me than my preference for private exercise. (By which I mean, no exercise at all more often than not.)

And wouldn’t you know, it occurred to me during the course of the hour, that exercise class is a lot like church. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

Observations on a morning of exercise class:

Observation One: I love exercise classes where I am the youngest member.

Because I work at home, I am able to go to classes in the morning, after the overflow of committed enthusiasts who go before they get behind the wheel for their commute. Those people are scary. I have been at the gym at 6:00 am and seen their classes with accompanying blaring rock music. How can anyone endure that eardrum assault so early? I have watched them race onto the track and actually run, putting feet together in a coordinated, fast motion at that hour.

This is not possible for normal people. They are clearly the spawn of aliens.

But the 10:00 am classes? Filled with retired folk. Do you know what is glorious about an exercise class filled with people over 65?

They Do. Not. Care.

They don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they get every move right. They don’t care if they can’t stretch as far as that girl next to them in the designer purple yoga pants. They do not care the tiniest bit. They dance like they don’t care.

I love it.


Church people care.

They care if your kids are crazier than theirs. They care if you volunteer as often as they do. They care if your opinions line up with theirs. They care if your clothes are nicer/not nicer/less modest/less expensive/more expensive/more outlandish/more casual than theirs. They. Care.

Not everywhere. Definitely not at our church. But at many.

So the lesson from exercise class? Find a place that doesn’t care or, better still, make a place that doesn’t care. Go to church and pretend you’re a 70-year-old woman doing yoga.

  • That other mom’s kid can’t seem to stop running through the hallway? High five her and tell her she’s doing great at a tough job. I mean, motherhood is kind of like trying to stretch your foot behind your ear while breathing properly (or breathing at all). Those kids’ souls are what matters—not any mess or noise they make. Old ladies doing yoga just don’t care about what doesn’t matter.


  • Go talk to that teenager wearing pajama pants to church. Welcome her. Ask her about her day, year, life. High five her for surviving being sixteen. That’s like me managing an hour of swing dancing when I’ve barely got the endurance level of a three-toed sloth. I bet she’s got a lot to share.


  • Find the single guy who only shows up every month or so. Ask him what his dreams are. Find out what he’s good at. High five him for wanting something deeper in his life enough to get there when he does. Kind of like showing up for strength training class when currently you’ve got the muscle mass of a hummingbird.

There are dreams and wishes and hurts and yearnings we know nothing about swirling in the hearts of the people right next to us.

It’s freeing to be among a bunch of people doing aerobic foxtrotting with glee and no shame at all. It makes it OK to make mistakes. It allows for someone to not know what comes next. It forgives. It offers a chance to dance with glee yourself.

It makes me want to come back.

What if we were the people who offered those things to the ones who walk through the doors of our church?

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s fine not to know what comes next.

It’s beautiful that you have doubts.

It’s great to see you whatever you look like.

I want you to dance here, with joy.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

Make your space a just don’t care zone. And I guarantee, from my experience, people will want to come back.

Going Deep


Last week, we began talking about Jesus’ story of the soils. It’s part of a series on Jesus’ stories and how to be good storytellers with out lives. You can read the intro here.

The basic idea is this:

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

More than anything, it seems, people want to tell good stories with their lives. So shouldn’t we want to hear the stories of the one who most people agree was the best at that? I do.

Jesus told his listeners about a farmer who tossed seed around—some on a hard path, some on rocky soil, some amid weeds, and some on good, fertile soil. This week, let’s talk a little about those rocks.

“Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock.”

You can guess what’s going to happen here, right?


We have a bare spot in our garden, right along the driveway. Every so often, I decide to put a plant there. I shove the transplant spade into the dirt. And it stops, abruptly. Under that bare spot is a slab of rock, not an inch and a half down. I always forget it’s there. But the shovel reminds me with its jolt, and I know I cannot plant anything in that place. It’s roots will never grow deep enough to survive, especially in the dry, tree-root ridden soil along our driveway.

Rocks are not usually conducive for growth. The only things that grow among rocks are small plants that don’t have much for roots. (I know—things with giant taproots do as well—but that’s another theological truism.)

The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. (Matthew 13.20-21)

Shallow Soil Produces a Shallow Story

I have known so many of these people. They react immediately to hearing inspirational messages. They are all in. The emotional high grabs them, and they want to spring up and sign up as God’s right hand, right now.

Then life happens. The heat gets turned up. The high is gone, and life returns to so very . . . normal. I start to hear things like,“That’s not what I signed up for.” “I didn’t expect this.” “Well, God’s not working for me anymore.”

God ends up like a fire alarm in the hallway of their lives—pull in case of emergency, but otherwise, he stays behind the glass.

The ones whose faith lands on rocky soil never develop deep roots.


Is your heart shallow or deep?

To tell a good story with our lives, we need deep hearts.

A story without depth is boring. If a plotline never gets beyond small demands and low risk, who really wants to read it? Who’s going to option the movie rights on the tale that never embroils its hero in anything interesting?

If Frodo just FedExed the ring to Mordor, no one would care.

The story happens in the difficult moments. Characters are created in the hot sun. When drought hits, we know which people we want to watch until the end.

The ones who have shown depth of heart.

The kingdom of God thrums a heartbeat of deep, messy, thoughtful life. The ones who see the demands, the depth, and then opt out have forfeited the opportunity to grow deep hearts.

I know that choice. It’s tempting to look at the heartbeat of the kingdom and think, “That’s too much. That passion would ask more than I can give. Feeling the things that break Jesus’ heart could break mine. Pull back. Pull back.”


I made that choice long enough, settling for rocky soil and a heart that went to a certain level and no farther. Then, Jesus forced me to see with his eyes.

What do you see when you get eye to eye with a lonely elderly person? When you visit an addict in the hospital? When you listen to an immigrant or refugee tell her story? When you really get a look at hurricane devastation on an island unable to recover for itself? I know what you see.

You see Jesus looking back. You see yourself in a way you’ve never seen you. And you like it.

Because here’s the thing—we’re created to be more than skin deep. There’s a cost to skating the surface. It seems easier — we’re too busy. Too overwhelmed. Remaining shallow-hearted is survival, that’s all.

But the cost is our soul. Deep hearts are real hearts. Broken hearts are alive.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

What will you risk this week to grow deep?

Telling Great Stories


What was your favorite story as a child? Mine was Ferdinand the Bull. I didn’t think most people knew about Ferdinand, but he was special to me. Something clicked  between me and a bull who didn’t want to fight—just wanted to smell the flowers. I just wanted to sit under a tree and read a book. Or on the couch. Or in bed, under the blankets late at night. Or anywhere, really.

Leave me alone, and let me live peacefully. Ferdinand found that difficult as a bull intended for the bullring. I found it difficult as the youngest of seven kids.

I knew what it felt like to be different. Can another INFJ raise a hand, here?

As an adult, the stories that have shaped me, not surprisingly, revolve around second chances and grace and the least among us doing great thing. Lord of the Rings. Les Miserables. Pride and Prejudice. (Also, stories about women who aren’t afraid to say what they mean. And then sometimes have to apologize.)

Stories Change Us


I will never forget the gut-punch feeling while sitting in a dark theater in December, 2001. My family watched The Fellowship of the Ring roll out on the big screen in Bozeman, Montana. (There was only one big screen in Bozeman.) We were only a couple months out of 9/11. The horror was still raw, the fear still tangible. And then Gandalf said the words I have never been able to shake.

To Frodo’s exhausted, “I wish none of this had happened,” Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

It meant something. It still means something to me—enough to make me write a book and speak to young adults everywhere I can about the wondrous ability of Tolkien’s stories to change us.

Stories mean something. We read them, watch them, are changed by them. From the beginning of humanity, people told stories to connect and to reflect who they were and who they wanted to be.

I’ve been taking some time to preach through Jesus’ stories lately. Because if any stories are going to change us, those ought to.


Jesus’ Stories Change Everything

Often when we read Jesus’ parables, we read them to extract a moral. What does he want us to do? How should we act? In the words of the rich young man, “What must I do for the kingdom of God?”

What if Jesus wants us to live the story—plot, character, climax, and conflict? What if he wants us to read it like he meant it—like a story, not a morality play? In fact, as a writer, I know the latter is a terrible way to write a story. We dare not tack on a moral at the end or we make it cliche, a trite tale that bashes the reader over the head with our Bible. (It’s kind of the way Christians tend to make movies . . . )

That’s not Jesus’ way.

Jesus drops a story in the listeners’ ears. The he lets them figure it out. He makes them figure it out. Jesus is not a bash-them-over-the-head sort of guy. (Although he has no trouble being a turn-the-tables-over sort of guy. That’s different.)

So what is the purpose of Jesus’ stories? They paint us a picture of life as it should be. His tales hold up a portrait, a landscape really, of the kingdom of God. This is what it looks like, guys. And he asks— Is this the story you want to tell as your own?

Jesus tells stories to help us imagine a world that aligns with how its supposed to be–to help us create our own story and tell it out. We study parables not for the moral of the story but for our story within them. What do they contribute to our tale? And how does out tale fit in God’s great kingdom, of which we are a tiny, tiny part yet still a meaningful one?

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

In Jesus’ “introduction” to his parables, he gives another reason for telling them. To sort out who is truly listening.

That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. (Matthew 13)

Jesus returns to the ancient shema—the call of God to truly hear and listen. From its beginning in Deuteronomy, the shema asks more of God’s people. They are to listen to his words with open ears and hearts, willing and wanting to respond to God’s words at all times. That’s the meaning behind “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus means don’t simply hear—DO.

So the parables are stories to help us find our place in God’s great story. They are also sifters to see who is really listening. Jesus is preparing to leave his followers, and he needs to know who is in and who is a hanger-on. Not that the hangers-on aren’t welcome, but they aren’t where he’s going to get his team for building the church when he is gone. He’s looking for hearers and doers. And the stories separate the ones who want to work at it from those who want the fireworks and free fish.

Just think about all the people who were Cubs fans last year but not this. That’s the difference, my friends.


When do we listen, really listen, to stories, as I did in that dark theater sixteen years ago?

We listen to stories when we appreciate our need for them.

I mean, if we’re prepping for a test, and we think we’ve got all the time in the world, or we know more than anyone else, we’re not likely to really listen when the teacher is reviewing. We’re going to be in the corner on Facebook, or doodling in the notebook, or catching a nap. We don’t feel our need for the information.

Jesus didn’t force morals or tell his point straight out because he wanted people to realize their need. We usually only realize that when we’re made to work for it. If it comes easily, we don’t know how much we really need it. When we do realize it, we are really to change. He wanted to force that work. Because—

Good stories change us for the better.

and then—

People who are changed tell good stories.


That’s the point of the parables. To get us to tell good stories with our lives. We will never do that until we have ears to hear Jesus’ stories and know that they aren’t intended to give us a new law or some behavior to check off but a completely new story arc.

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

We do that when we let the stories sink through our ears and change our very hearts.

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

Next week, we will begin looking into some of those stories. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of yours.

Also–what was your favorite story as a child? What’s your favorite now?

the Bible in 14 words

Having someone challenge you to think about something you take for granted is annoying. You know this is true. You get asked something like, “Why do you always have the same drink order at Starbucks?” or “Why do you love your spouse?” (two questions of an admittedly different scope), and you just mumble something about “Because it is what it is, and I just do. Why do you have to be so annoying, especially before I’ve had that second caffeine boost?”

Recently, our church leadership and staff have been asked to consider the question– “What is the gospel?” We assume we know. We’ve listened to Billy Graham. We got the bracelet with the colored beads. We know the Romans Road and can traverse it with the best of them. But think about this. 

What do you know? What would you say? Cut away what you assume and take for granted and answer the question like you’ve never heard it. Maybe you haven’t.

What. Is. The. Gospel?

It’s a question I’ve pondered since seminary days, when I told my theology professor I thought salvation had to be toward something good rather than simply away from something bad. He agreed. 

My fellow students looked at me funny. Wasn’t the first or last time. I didn’t know I was thinking outside of the box of orthodox evangelicalism. I had no box for reference—I hadn’t grown up in one like most of these guys had. I only knew they looked at me funny, which, if you know me, you know felt a little bit like a badge of honor.

Yes, it’s broken. My favorite plate. Because people do this.
Break things. We’re good at it.
Now, twenty- and thirty-somethings are daring to say those things I said when I was twenty-something, only now people are listening. Story of my life.

But preach it, sisters and brothers, because we need to go back and ask that question. 

Ask it again and again until we know we’ve left behind our assumptions and boxes and easy three-step answers and are left naked with nothing but the Word of God and open ears.

What is the gospel? Twenty-five words of fewer?(Yeah, “less” is grammatically incorrect. You’ve been lied to your whole life.)

I’m giving it a shot.

God created. Everything. He had a plan for perfect balance and a relationship with humans—His image-bearers. We messed it up by trying to be more than image-bearers–trying for the image itself. We wanted to run the show. We forgot we didn’t create it and didn’t know how to run it. Dumb. Fyi—We still do this.

God sent His image again—Jesus—perfect man and God in one piece. I don’t quite get how either. But he did. Jesus said “I know your lives are broken, and your relationships are broken, and your everything is pretty much broken because that first relationship that all good things come from is broken. I’ll fix it. You didn’t keep your agreement with your Creator, but Ill keep it for you; I’ll die to keep it.

And when I come back (which will blow away ALL your assumptions), I’ll start really shaking things up. I’ll start planning for and expecting the Kingdom that God meant to happen here will happen. Here. Now. And I’ll start giving you the power to help me make it happen, if you believe me.

OK, that was way more than 25 words. Still, three paragraphs is not too bad, when you consider my theology book i school was about four inches wide. So 25 words? How about:

God created. We broke. God loved. He fixed. We love back—we help fix.

Fourteen words. Boom.

I’d love to know your words. How would you explain the gospel? If you are not a believer, how would you explain it? What have you heard people tell you it is? What do or don’t you like of what you’ve heard? I would really love to have that conversation.

(don’t) just do it

It’s risk time again. And as often happens while doing this listening-to-God-life thing, what I thought I’d write about today isn’t what’s hitting the page. The original plan will be here next month, I promise. And it’s a BIG BOOTS adventure, so do stay tuned!

(“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” AA Milne)

But today, I have to face this Lent thing. I do, because it’s here, and I don’t feel I can ignore it, which is usually the way I handle Lent. And yes, facing Lent is a risk. Because what I’m going to say risks making people mad, which I hate more than waiting in line at the DMV, which you KNOW is serious not-liking.

Thinking about anything that 1—messes with peoples’ traditions, 2—potentially questions their motives, and 3—asks serious questions about God and the crucifixion is going to get real scary real fast.

What I’m going to say is, I don’t get it. I’ve never done it. Never seen any reason to.

Maybe I’m too much of a legalist for Lent observance. If I gave up desserts for Lent for instance, you know the first thing that would follow. Hmmm, if I eat this snickerdoodle at 3:00, is it a dessert or an afternoon snack? If I give up social media—hey, checking my Facebook while sitting in the car waiting to pick up a kid is totally a good use of time. Plus it’s purely for professional purposes.

You get the idea. Give me a rule, and I’ll find the loophole. Make me draw lines in my life of what is OK and what is not OK, and I become a line drawer. I will focus on where those lines are and what the precise definitions are, and it will become all about those lines. Those rules. Those loopholes. Where is Jesus in there?

I’m not seeing it all bringing me closer to Christ during Lent.

What it could manage is dragging me closer to that all-too-human bent toward legalism. Checking off the rules on my wall of what I can and cannot get away with and still be OK with God.

Which is what God begs his people to get away from several times. It’s what I definitely need to stay away from, since I’m good at finding my worth–dare I say salvation?–in my achievements and things checked off on a list. I’ve clawed my way out of legalism, thank you very much. Don’t intend to be hauled back without a fight.

God so does not want me to go there. So why would he want me to observe Lent?

And, here’s the other thing. I see people giving stuff up for Lent, and I usually note one of a few motivations:

1—I’m giving up ________ because it’s tradition. My church does it. I’ve always done it. It would be weird not to do it. To which I think, it’s my Swedish tradition to eat blood sausage and fish balls, but some traditions are meant to die. Quickly.

2—I want to lose weight, and giving up chocolate or ice cream or sugar is a sure-fire way to get rid of ten pounds AND sound really holy doing so. It’s a win-win.

3—When I give up something, I can talk about it on Facebook, so other people can see how holy I am. Unless I’m actually giving up Facebook, which means you’ll have to see how holy I am by my absence. Which does work, in a strange negative-energy sort of way.

And—do I really need to say this?

These are not good reasons.

If I’m giving up, say, chai tea lattes for forty days out of ignorance, personal gain, or pride, not only am I going to be cranky for forty days, but I suspect I will be no closer to Jesus than I was on Fat Tuesday.

The other reason I’ve never practiced Lent is that it’s not supposed to be a one-shot deal. I rebel at the idea that I can think about being like Jesus for only one season. Being like Jesus is supposed to consume my everyday will. Isn’t it flirting with apathy just a little to say I’ll work on this God thing seriously until Easter, and then, well, we’ll see after that?

So help me out here. Why would I do this?

Sigh. I have many friends whom I deeply respect giving up some of these things for Lent. They are not people of apathy or loose motivations. They have reasons. They love God with all their mind and hands and heart and will. I want to figure out those reasons.

So I decided to look into the original purposes of these forty days. There, maybe, I’d find answers for all my whys. The original purpose, apparently, was to prepare the believer–through prayer, repentance, giving, and self-denial. It never says what the believer is being prepared for. And that bothers me, since it look very much like what I have problems with. We don’t know why, but it’s got to be good for us. Like a religious edict to eat your brussels sprouts.

Just do it” is a motto I can get behind when I’m sitting in committee meetings for a couple hours. But in matters of faith practice? Not so much.

But another thing I read catches my attention. “The forty days of Lent was meant to remind us of the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert to prepare for his ministry.” That word ‘prepare’–it comes again. But this time, there’s a reason. A preparation for something. A purpose behind the denial. And here it is—

so Jesus can go out and do what he came to do, with laser-focus on why he’s doing it.

Would that change the way we do Lent?

I doubt that leaving chocolate behind is going to prepare me for loving the world. I don’t believe, in my heart of hearts, that giving up caffeine will give me focus on what matters going forward. What I need, if I’m going to understand and do this Lent thing, is to know what will bring me to a place where I’m more prepared to focus on what God put me here to do and, yes, just do it.

I need a practice toward something rather than a push away.

So, as I think about coming to terms with this Lent, I realize there is something I can do. I can move toward being more like him. I can practice something that will prepare me to love the world. I can focus on his humility and make it as much mine for forty days as I can, hoping it will take hold and last.

That’s the risk I’d ask you to take this Lent. Find your motivation. Be honest about it. Whether or not you’ve ever given up so much as a quarter of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, figure out why or why not. It is risky. You may not like the answer. (Im’ not sure I like mine. But i’m going to do it.) 

It’s always risky to look at Jesus and ask him if you know him well enough to be walking with him through life. It’s scary because–He’ll answer.

What are you moving toward this Lent? What is He preparing you for? Just do that.