I shaved my head for Lent yesterday.
Much like many evangelicals have rediscovered and embraced Advent of a season of preparation for Christmas, Lent is a season of preparation and reflection on the Passion and coming of Easter. More (or less) on my hair in a minute.
Last year at this time, I was on staff at a Southern Baptist church. As plans for a big Easter Sunday consumed the staff with less than two weeks to go, I quietly asked the senior staff if I could hold a Good Friday service at the church. My request was graciously granted as long as the rest of the staff weren’t tapped or burdened with additional duties because of it.
I approached one of the worship staff members and asked if she knew of some choir members that rarely (or never) got solos on Sunday and would like the opportunity to participate. She gave me five names and an accompanist and I chose five modern and ancient hymns for them to rehearse for a week. The extent of ‘advertising’ was a mention in a worship guide the Sunday prior. I really didn’t expect more than twenty people to attend including my six-member music team and my wife and daughter. But that was alright with me because, maybe selfishly, I personally needed Good Friday for me to amplify Easter.
To make a medium story short, with no huge promotion, no huge production, five hymn solos, and me reading scripture and saying a few words in between each solo, a couple hundred people were able to amplify the meaning of Easter Sunday by remembering Good Friday. It was truly a sacred hour of reverent worship and reflection. There was a buzz around the church the following week surrounding what God had done with that little thrown together service with people coming to me saying “Oh, I wish I would have been there. I’ve heard such great things!” It was sweet confirmation of letting God add the numbers (Acts 2:47) and that we just need to be faithful, not excellent.
So just like you can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday, and Advent helps prepare our hearts for Christmas, Lent is the forty days prior to Easter where Christians all over the world can remind ourselves of the sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial of Christ. That God chose to identify with man to save man. Many will choose to give up something for Lent, not as a penance or payment back to God, but as an experiential symbol of sacrifice or self-denial.
If you’ve chosen to walk this 40-day (or 39-day now) journey, might I suggest giving up something other than chocolate, caffeine, sugar, or video games? Because it could be argued that giving up such things would actually benefit you; that your life will actually be better if you give these things up for a season. What if you gave up something that doesn’t hurt you but, rather, sacrifice something that you value highly or is tied closely to your identity?
When the Son of God became man, he sacrificed his comfort, his instantly recognizable and ungazeable deity and glory, his heavenly form for a broken earthly one. In short, he sacrificed many dynamics of his identity. Now for some, a Starbucks cup fused to your hand 24/7 may be intrinsically tied to your identity. Honestly, most Lenten sacrifices look more like New Year’s resolutions or a temporary repentance from gluttony. But for me, I gave up caffeine last July so that wasn’t an option anymore. So in searching for something for me to sacrifice, I meditated a long time on the subject of my identity; what is undeniably ‘Michael’? What would humble ‘Michael’? The answer was sitting on top of my head.
Even before I could appreciate it myself, barbers, hair stylists, and, yes, women, have always appreciated my hair. And slowly since my teen years, my pride in my hair has grown thick just like my wavy McDreamy locks; quickly and wildly. I used to care immensely about my clothes and fashion, but I put that to death years ago. But if there’s one thing I’m still worried about when leaving the house, it’s not my clothes or anything related to my appearance, except my hair.
So yesterday I gave up hair for Lent, not to appear hip or hide male-pattern baldness but as an act of humility (or humiliation.) I gave up part of my identity for over 40 years in order to identify with Christ this year in preparation for Easter.
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Pray about this: is there something related to your identity that you would sacrifice for these some forty days before Easter to better identify with Christ this season?