Faith Matters: Chocolate or no chocolate? That is the question.

By THE REV. CANDI ASHENDEN

Senior Pastor, Athol Congregational Church

Published: 02-24-2023 4:40 PM

Well, here we are beginning our Lenten journey. This is the holy time that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until sundown on Maundy Thursday.

In scripture, we are told that this is the time after Jesus’ baptism when Jesus went off into the wilderness. Some people ask why Jesus would have done this. Immediately after he is baptized and seems to “accept” his calling in the world, he disappears for a while into the desert. Why? Perhaps he did this for the same reason we today feel the need to go on retreat — to refocus who we are, where we are going, and to consider how we might get there in the most faithful of ways.

We live in an ever-increasingly busy world where we are always on the go. Parents of young children are on a constantly turning carousel of driving kids to school, sports, dance, play dates and more. Teens are so busy with extra-curriculars and homework that they no longer have time for the after-school jobs that helped teach and shape so many of us into responsible adults. Once kids are grown, we feel the need to dive into work more fully, increasing our workloads and pushing ourselves to do more. Then, ultimately, that desired retirement comes and we plunge ourselves headlong into serving our churches and our communities, helping out with grandkids when they live nearby, and more, until we begin asking ourselves how we ever had time to work in the first place.

With this as the current reality in which we live, it’s not surprising that our perspective about life gets blurred by all the noise and hyperactivity. In the chaos of Jesus’ world and his growing ministry, and the attention folks were paying to his message of hope and love of God, Jesus, too, needed time to fill himself up before he moved even more fully into his mission. And perhaps this Lenten season can become a time of renewal and re-centering for each of us?

The common way of observing Lent has become that of giving up something that we regularly enjoy. In our church, we invite folks to fill a Lenten jar with the coins or dollars that they might normally spend on some kind of treat for themselves — a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks coffee, soda, a chocolate bar, etc. These donations help the church carry out its mission. This still focuses on giving up something for Lent, but it also helps us see a deeper meaning in our sacrifice. We must see that we are called not to deprive ourselves, but to more fully fill ourselves up.

So this Lenten season, I invite you to observe this time in a way that you find meaningful and that brings you closer to God. If that involves sacrificing something you cherish for a period of time so that its return to your life brings you a greater sense of thanksgiving to God, then follow that path and say no to your “chocolate.” But if you feel that there is a different way for you to deepen your connection to Spirit, then make that choice instead. Perhaps that is carving out time to meditate or do some spiritually deeper reading; or to light a candle, sit quietly in a dark room and reflect and pray; or put your feet up on the ottoman, unwrap that chocolate bar and stare at a roaring fire in the fireplace while you mindfully munch.

Jesus modeled for us that we need a time to focus on renewing our spirits, and our methods of doing this can and should be as varied as our unique personalities. However it works for you, find a way to reconnect to God during these darker days leading up to the hope of spring and the promise of Easter — and know that many of us are taking this journey together.

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Athol Congregational Church, UCC at 1225 Chestnut St. in Athol is a local community of faith that is “small enough to know you, large enough to serve.” The church offers in-person worship as well as livestreamed services on Facebook under “Athol Congregational Videos.” Ashenden and members are available for conversation on the Facebook page and through private messages. The church also offers long-distance reiki through certified practitioners. Call 978-249-6202 for more information.

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