It's Ash Wednesday! For many denominations of Christians and Catholics, today marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a 40-day period of self-sacrifice that honors Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins, which ends in celebration on Resurrection Sunday.
It only takes 21 days to break a bad habit, so Lent is the perfect season to reset your spiritual, physical and mental life, for good. As a kid, I would use these 40 long days and nights to give up candy and soda, and then gorge myself on the goodies in the handmade Easter basket from my mom when Lent was over. As an adult, (though I will continue to give up sugar) I think it’s high time I gave up something a little bit more substantial.
Recently, I heard a sermon by Pastor Howard-John Wesley of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, called “You’ve Got to Learn to Get Over It,” that made me check my whole life! In this sermon, Pastor Wesley references the prophet Samuel, who is deeply depressed because the king that God had him anoint many years ago, King Saul, is no longer favored by God and is about to be replaced by David. At this point, Samuel has poured so much time, energy and resources into Saul to make Saul a good and holy king that it is devastating to Samuel that Saul did not work out.
In a moment of immaculate shade, God says to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing as I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go”. You may need to read that again. God said: “You good, Samuel, or nah? Because I’ve got something else for you to do.” Shade, God. Shade!
More important, God is telling us some perspective-giving truth in that verse. So often we get caught up in the hurt and disappointment relationships with others or lost opportunities can cause. These people and things seem so important, so vital to our existence and our validation, that when family and friends walk away from us or we miss out on opportunities unfairly, we start to mourn, like Samuel, not only the time, energy and resources we poured into those people or things, but we also mourn what could have or should have been.
Here are the 3 steps that God provides in order to let those things go and move forward.
Step one: See the bigger picture. These people didn’t leave us, these opportunities didn’t forsake us, God rejected them from our lives. God, who knows our past, present and future, allowed, for a season, certain things to exist around us and then removed from us that which would hinder us from becoming who He created us to be. That is a cause for celebration, not mourning!
Yet sometimes we hold on to those things, not only out of pride and a need for validation, but also out of fear that this person, this place, this opportunity is as good as it could possibly get for us. Let us be reminded: our God “is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” The question now is: Do you really believe that?
This season of Lent, I am giving up everything that God has rejected for me. All people, places and things that God has clearly let me know were not meant to be in my present or future, they’re gone, with my gratitude for the lessons and my warmest regards.
But though this first step of release is huge, Lent is not just about what we’re giving up; it’s also about what we’re going to actively replace these new vacancies with.
Step two: Replenish Yourself. God tells Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil”. That’s God acknowledging that we have allowed some things to drain us, to empty us completely, and in that state, we cannot be of use. During this time of Lent, we’ve got to fill ourselves back up.
I’ll be eating fresh, healthy foods, exercising, reading the Bible, meditating on God’s word, finally committing to a Bible-teaching church, and spending much more time in daily prayer.
Step three: Go! After God tells Samuel to fill his horn with oil, He tells Samuel to “go” to a new place and anoint a new king. With a renewed mind, body and soul, we can achieve the new things that God wants to do in our lives and in the world, through us.
Let’s make the most of these 40 days and 40 nights. Forgetting those things which are behind us, let's press forward toward God's higher calling for our lives.
Brooke Obie is editor-at-large for EBONY.com and writes the column, "The Spiritual Life." Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.