Turning to God to Feel Better (Lent 2022)
What can you give up for Lent in order to return to God with all your heart?
Summary: Take notice of what you turn to when you are angry, sad, scared, stressed, worried, anxious, tired, bored, guilty, or ashamed. Consider giving that up for Lent. Turn to God for what you wanted that thing to give you. (Continue reading if you want to dig deeper.)
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 2nd) and ends on Easter Sunday (April 17). There are 46 days in Lent, 40 of which are fasting days and 6 of them are feasting days. Every Sunday during Lent you can break your fast. This is a period in the church calendar where we remember both our humanity and our sinfulness as we are led to the foot of the cross on Good Friday and Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday. During Lent, we recognize our desperate need for Jesus to be our representative and substitute whose atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for our salvation.
During Lent, people usually ask each other a particular question: What are you giving up for Lent? This can tend to be the focus of Lent. But there is a purpose behind giving something up for Lent and if all we do is give something up, then we have missed what Lent is about. Ruth Haley Barton describes Lent as an invitation to return to God and the question we ought to ask is: Where in my life have I gotten away from God and how can I return to him with all my heart? (see her article)
So how can you see where you have gotten away from God? I grew up in the country so I spent a lot of time playing in the woods and hunting. In both cases, I would come across well-worn trails traveled by animals. These trails showed the animals' desires - their needs and wants. They needed food. They needed water. And these trails were the paths they followed to get there over and over again.
We too have well-worn trails in our lives - paths we follow over and over again. And these well-worn trails - or habits - show us what we desire, what we want and need. Martin Luther said, "Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god" (Luther's Large Catechism). In order to see how we have gotten away from God, we can look at what we cling to and rely upon instead of God. A great place to start is what you turn to in order to feel better. Obseve the well-worn trails you follow. My encouragement to you is to answer the questions below to indentify something you will intentionally give up for Lent.
1. What do you turn to in order to feel better...
- ...when you are angry?
- ...when you are sad?
- ...when you are scared?
- ...when you are stressed, worried, or anxious?
- ...when you are tired?
- ...when you are bored?
- ...when you feel guilty?
- ...when you feel ashamed?
Take notice of when you feel these things (e.g. at work, when you get home, when you get into bed).
Take notice of what you do, perhaps without even thinking about it, when you feel these things (e.g. you walk to the pantry and look for a snack, you turn on the TV, you become hyper-focused on getting things done).
2. What do you want from that? What do you hope it will give you? What are you relying on it for?
Fill in these blanks: When I am [what you feel], I look for [what you want] in [what you look to for it].
Here are some examples:
- When I am [stressed], I look for [peace] in [getting things done].
- When I am [tired], I look for [joy] in [watching TV shows].
- When I am [bored or stressed], I look for [satisfaction, relief, comfort] in [checking my phone].
3. How does it fail to truly give you what you want from it?
4. How does God truly give you what you want in Christ? It can be helpful to have some passages in Scripture that tell you how God gives you what you are looking for.
5. How can you turn to God for that instead?
Fill in these blanks: When I am [what you feel], I will look to God for [what you want] instead of [what you usually look to] by [specific, concrete action]. [optional Scripture verse that speaks to this issue]
Here are some examples:
- When I am [stressed], I will look to God for [peace] instead of [getting things done] by [spending time reading my Bible and praying before getting things done]. [Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:6-7]
- When I am [tired], I will look to God for [joy] instead of [watching TV shows] by [first thanking God for 10 things from the day]. [Psalm 118:1]
- When I am [bored or stressed], I will look to God for [satisfaction, relief, comfort] instead of [checking my phone] by [opening the Bible app on my phone to read the Bible]. [Matthew 4:4, Psalm 16:11]
By identifying what we turn to in order to feel better, we can "give something up for Lent" that we turn to instead of God. This is about choosing God above all else as the one who can truly give us what we want. May we return to God with all our hearts.
Sermons for Lent 2022:
- Return to God - February 20th