Lengthen Your Stride
Lent is the time when we prepare for Easter by making a special effort to become more like God wants us to be. God created each one of us, and when God finishes creation, God always declares it to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). God has an intention, God has a plan in mind for each and every one of us. But look at us. Even though there are lots of good things in us, and lots of good points, there are also a lot of places where we fall short, where we are not what God intends us to be, and where we even act like spoiled children toward each other and toward God. Sometimes we just can’t help but say the unkind thing about an associate or coworker behind their back because it makes us look smarter and more in line with the “in crowd.” Sometimes we just can’t be bothered with putting in a little extra effort to help someone who needs it because we are tired, feel frustrated, or annoyed. We fall short of what God wants because of lots of different things: our fears, thoughtlessness, laziness, weakness, or our own deliberate choice. What that means is that God is not yet finished creating us. That moment when God can look at us and say, “Very Good” is still in the future. But we have to learn to let God do this. That’s why we pray, why we go to Church, why we take communion, learn what Jesus taught and how he behaved. It is also why we keep Lent. The word Lent comes from an Old English word that means lengthen, or get longer. In the Northern Hemisphere where this practice of Christianity grew, February through April are springtime, when warmth and light returns after the cold and dark of winter. The days of winter are very short and the days of summer very long. Where I grew up in Moses Lake, Washington, in the middle of winter, the sun came up at about 8:00 in the morning and went down at about 4:00 in the afternoon. But in the summer, the sky started to get light at 4:30 in the morning and finally got dark in the evening about 10:00 pm. So in the springtime, the days gradually grew longer until they were almost twice as long as they had been in the winter. During Lent, we too should stretch and try to get longer and taller. Not in a physical way, but in our hearts and the way we follow Jesus. During Lent, we try to remember and think on the places where we fall short, where we don’t measure up to what God wants for us, and try to set it right. Some of us give up a few things we like—like certain foods or treats—in order help us remember all the time to stretch and think about what Jesus wants us to be. (This year, I am “fasting” from such fasting, because Covid has so constricted our communal life that I find just focusing on the positive is sufficient for me to make that Lenten lengthening.) Some of us make a special effort to say our prayers, to read Bible stories and other good books, and to be especially kind and helpful to others, especially those who really need the help. Some make special efforts to say they’re sorry and make up for bad things they have done to others. When you run a race, you have your pace and your stride—how fast you move your feet and how far you place them ahead of each other with each step. A coach tells a runner to speed up: quicken your pace, lengthen your stride. That means move your feet faster and make each step count more by making it longer. Because he knew that quickening my pace was beyond me, one of my coaches in Middle School used to yell at me, “Hutchinson, LENGTHEN YOUR STRIDE” to get me to run further faster.
Lent is a quiet time, so we shouldn’t try to do too much: moving faster isn’t the point. Making each spiritual step count more, lengthening our stride, is essential as we try to listen to God. So just like the lengthening days, our steps get longer, and we stretch ourselves more. We do this together during this special time called Lent, because doing things together and with the help of others usually helps us do them better. It also helps remind us to do it.
Grace and Peace.