Editor’s Note: This article was written by my Mom, Margie Echols, in March 2006. She wrote it for The Glendale New Church newsletter that year. I am one of the homeschooling kids she mentions in the later part of the article. I don’t remember what I gave up that year (I think it was either TV or chocolate), but I do remember it made a big impact on me! It’s been useful to re-read this article as I prepare to focus on Lent this year with my kids.
Growing up in a family of eight children with a New Church minister for a father, and a 3rd generation New Church minister’s daughter for a mother, I pretty much felt sure of what made up a distinctive New Church lifestyle. I was taught this by both of my parents and it was heartily reinforced by my older siblings, in their zeal to shepherd us younger ones along. Our dad trained all of the teachers to instill New Church principles along with the Bible stories they taught to us kids in Sunday School.
I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I was prideful in my certitude that I knew what comprised a New Church person’s life. And a Lent Sacrifice certainly was NOT included, in my early view. In fact, when my childhood friends in public school did give up certain foods or privileges for Lent, I felt quite sorry for them. I did not think any religion should require a little child to give up meat, or going to the movies, or anything at all. It made me feel very separated from my friends, because I knew they must be suffering from a wrong understanding of the one God over us all.
Imagine my consternation then when my aunt Alice, my mother’s oldest sister, also well steeped in New Church doctrines, started talking to all her family members about her Lent observation! She didn’t act apologetic or seem to feel that it was incongruous with our accepted teachings. She acted more like we ought to have been sacrificing something during the Lenten season for all the years we’d spent alive. This look at Lent took even my mom by surprise. My aunt had smoked for most of her life, and was moved to give up smoking for Lent, one year. She actually grew to love giving up something in remembrance of what the Lord suffered during His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Aunt Alice reported to my mom that she found such spiritual fulfillment in the abstaining behavior, that she was encouraging her siblings to think about it for themselves.
Aunt Alice had found in old New Church literature evidence that the early New Churchmen DID observe Lent! AMAZING! In my growing up years, at home with my parents’ very religious guidance, then at the Academy High School and College, nobody I knew sacrificed anything for Lent. I really considered it to be an external custom, derived from false doctrine.
So, in my mid-thirties, when Aunt Alice told of her voluntary cigarette-smoking suspension, I was definitely skeptical at first. Then my mom began to do her own quiet sacrifice for the Lenten period. I saw a difference in her, and was willing to concede that the voluntary
self-denial of what she gave up may have made that difference. But at that time I was so busy raising Clark’s and my growing family that I felt I couldn’t give adequate consideration to choosing a behavior to sacrifice.
What I ate, I ate for the necessary nutrients, and also what I read, watched, or listened to on various media all sustained my life and upheld my ideals, and I was pretty dependent on them. I felt I held all of them in quite proper subordination to my Savior, so that there was no need to sacrifice my use of any of them.
As you can plainly see, I was actually at a point of hard-hearted resistance. I see now I was quite smug about my acceptability in the Lord’s eyes, and felt I didn’t need to enhance my good points by such extreme behavior as a sacrifice.
Well, years later, while serving as book room keeper in Sarver, PA, I received 5 copies of a newly reprinted old collateral New Church book: WORDS of LIFE, by the Rev. Paul Sperry. It doesn’t say what year it was originally published, but judging by the language, I believe it was in the late 1800’s. It is a daily reading book of devotional sermonettes. I love daily readings and began to use it right away. This book, though, is not organized into 365 readings from January to December as per normal. It has only 271 readings, divided into 2 categories. Part 1 consists of topics of universal interest, and Part 2 is headed “The Sundays and other Holy Days of the Christian Year.” And there, between Advent and Easter, are the LENT READINGS! So Aunt Alice’s assertion was right, and in the earlier days of the New Church, people observed Lent! That really got my attention.
Well, the readings for Lent really jumped out at me when I received the book in the fall of the year in 1998, so I read them all. By the time Lent season was approaching in 1999, I decided it was my year to observe it. I invited those of our children still at home to observe it too. All of the 4 kids who were in our homeschool had decided to give up something for Lent, after much careful discussion and consideration. They chose their own things, and I didn’t force anyone to participate.
Then came the 40 days of doing without. Some of the kids had voluntarily given up a food they dearly loved; some had given up the use of television or music to entertain them. We all learned by doing, what could be gained by the doing-without. What we all found was that each time we missed our certain given-up item, such as a certain TV show or radio program, we remembered that we had chosen to do without it. Then we would remember why we were going without, and that raised our thoughts to the Lord, and our appetite for the missed item lessened. It made a kind of tapestry of Lord-thoughts through our days, more or less richly textured depending on how much we were used to utilizing the given-up object. It became a real privilege to do without it!
As Easter finished, and we discussed our experience of a Lenten observation, the ones that had given up the MOST described their loss as a definite gain of spiritual understanding. The ones who had given up least had experienced less frequent thoughts of the Lord, but still had gained an appreciation of the contrast between giving up something not very prized compared with something cherished dearly. And we were all feeling more bonded together by the experience, and blessed by there being a group of us at once, so we could really compare and contrast our experiences. The kids voluntarily decided to do it again the next year. I was so affected by it that I continued partial givings-up for months afterward, although not to the same degree.
And now it is Lent again, and I am happily paying spiritual attention to what I have chosen to give up. I think of the whole experience as my Lenten Legacy from Aunt Alice. I feel connected to her every year at this time (P.S. Aunt Alice quit smoking forever the next Lent, and lived to be 94 years old!).