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The Season of Lent

This time next week, believe it or not, we will find ourselves in the season of Lent. We’ll be gathering in the sanctuary on February 13 for our Ash Wednesday service and so embark together on a season of reflection, prayer, repentance and commitment. We need the forty days of Lent to prepare for the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We need these six weeks to tend our souls and center our hearts. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite seasons in the church year.

As you know, we are inviting you to participate in seven spiritual practices during Lent: praying, reading Scripture, worshiping, giving, covenanting, serving and inviting. We’ll be talking about these practices in more depth in worship from now until Easter, and I hope each of us can grow deeper in our discipleship through these and other practices.

One of the things we’ve been encouraging you to do during this season is to consider joining a small group in order to share the Lenten journey with others—to seek spiritual companionship. If you were in worship this past Sunday, you heard me talking about how necessary it is in Christian relationships to be able to “speak the truth in love to one another.” We need other believers to encourage us, to pray for us, to stand beside us and to “speak the truth in love” to us. We need others to ask us, “How is your prayer life? How is it with your soul? How is your struggle with temptation?”

Those are hard questions to ask one another, but, when asked in love and trust, they are vital to our faith. Jesus spoke the truth and asked difficult questions all the time. The Apostle Paul urged the church in Ephesus to “speak the truth in love” to one another. John Wesley organized small group meetings around these questions of accountability and mutual support. So why is it so hard for us today? Why is it that we will attend to our physical health and allow a personal trainer or a Weight Watchers program to hold us accountable, but we won’t tend to our spiritual health in the same way?

On Sunday I posed this question: “Do you have at least one person in your life who will tell you the truth about yourself?” Or, do you have someone you trust enough that you can tell him/her the truth? Do you have a person or a group of people who can tell you what they see in your life or where they see God moving in your life?

Let me share how one loving conversation made a huge difference in my life. As many of you know, at the end of my senior year in high school, my boyfriend Steve was killed in a car accident. For the next few years, I was weighed down with a grief that I could not escape. I didn’t always see how it was affecting me and my life. Two years after it happened, one of my high school friends who had been close to Steve took me on a drive. He told me that he and my other friends were really worried about me. He said that they never knew what I was feeling, that I didn’t share my grief with them and allow them to care for me. He said, “If you want to have a real friendship, you’re going to have to be more open.”

That conversation cracked open the hard shell I’d been wearing. It threw me for a loop and took me several months to process. I thought I was being a good friend by sparing my friends and protecting them from my grief. I thought I was supposed to cope with it alone and let everyone else move on. But my friend had the courage to confront me and share his frustration with me. At first I was defensive. Then I berated myself for being “a terrible friend!” But eventually, I learned a lesson about what real friendship is all about.

If my friend had not had the courage to “check me” in my grief, if he had not loved me enough to hold up a mirror to me, I don’t know how I would have ever learned how important it is to be vulnerable and let people into your life. We all need friends like that. And church is the best place to start.