Lent is spring cleaning for the soul

It’s that time of year for Christians of all denominational stripes. The 40 days leading up to Easter are known as Lent. They are days which call for introspection and focus. They are a kind of “spring cleaning for the soul.” These six weeks invite the faithful to center down on the essence of what matters.

Simply put, the central aim of Christ-followers is to love God and love others. We are called to love the Lord with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength. Curiously, my Jewish neighbors embrace that aim with me. It’s found in Deuteronomy 6:5. That is the first and greatest commandment.

For Jesus, there was a second commandment that flowed out of the first. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We sometimes call that “the Golden Rule.” It, too, has its roots in the Jewish Bible. In Leviticus 19:18 it says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself…”

But Jesus was quick to add, the second is like the first. To love our neighbors to the same degree we love ourselves. Whereas the “loving God” commandment is difficult to quantify, “loving our neighbors” is much easier to define.

The latter lends itself to tangible deeds. Like cleaning out the garage or the hall closet, “loving our neighbors” has to do with organizing around a need in the lives of those who live around you.

Loving our neighbors need not be some intimidating concept. It can be as easy as getting to know our neighbors and discovering their interests, heartaches and dreams. And then, responding in tangible ways. It could be a greeting card. A bouquet of flowers or a plant. A gift card to Starbucks.

The lines from a contemporary hymn say it well:

I want to reach my world through acts of kindness.

A listening ear. A hand that reaches out.

Making the time to get to know my neighbor,

discovering their passions, fears and doubts.

Extending mercy when their hearts are broken,

transparently acknowledging our pain.

I especially like the last line of that hymn. It suggests that when we allow others to see the chinks in our armor, we lower the drawbridge and allow them to enter into our fortified castles. Vulnerability invites honest sharing. Common need breeds understanding.


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