Prepare the Way: Why I Need Carbs (and Coffee) for Lent

This week, Patheos asked its bloggers to reflect on spiritual practices that we find especially meaningful during Lent.

For the life of me…I’ve got nothing.

Maybe I lack the discipline to give things up. I’ve never even attempted giving up chocolate or alcohol. I believe in moderation, but dang…a girl’s got to live. I’m sure sacrificing carbs or sugar or caffeine would purify my body in some powerful way, while also providing soul benefits, but I’m only a person. I run a church, I have two small children, I write, I walk the dog, I’ve got laundry to do. What I’m saying is, I need sustenance.More power to y’all who’ve been gifted with a sacrificial spirit, but some of us are just trying to get by.

I just read back over that paragraph and laughed, right out loud, at the thought of giving up coffee. But seriously, my failure at self-deprivation is not my only issue during Lent. Here’s the thing…for those of us who lead a church (whether paid staff or volunteer) the elements of ‘preparation’ in liturgical seasons are as practical as they are spiritual. As we seek to lead our congregations through the soul-searching wilderness of Advent or Lent, our own lives (and desks) are crowded with the details of the upcoming red-letter day.

The post-it notes that fill my life at the moment–not to mention the voices that fill my head–sound something like this:

Put up banners and fliers; update website; get song list to band; figure out who’s bringing donut holes to sunrise service; and COFFEE…who will pick up coffee at 5:30am? Order extra communion supplies; recruit and train extra greeters and deacons; organize a work day so we can pain and clean and pull weeds and add extra chairs to the worship space; write the sermon write the sermon write the sermon; plan Maundy THursday service and Good Friday labyrinth walk; write the sermon and do NOT WAIT UNTIL HOLY WEEK to write the sermon… buy my girl an Easter dress, make sure everybody has shoes that fit, plan the egg hunt…dang, get Easter basket stuff for MY kids….and, did i mention, write the sermon.

So, yeah…I’d love to spend a little more time roaming in the desert, reading Exodus, and depriving myself of processed sugar. But as much as I want to sit and reflect and think deep thoughts about Jesus…I have to get ready. People are coming, and they are expecting to meet Jesus when they get here. It would be swell if we didn’t run out of communion wafers.

I always struggle to find the right balance between the spiritual journey of these holy days, and the practical managing of details. And the more my church grows, the more details there seem to be. But here’s what I know to be true: while prayer disciplines and acts of self-denial are important, preparing a place for others is a sacred act as well. Hospitality is a spiritual gift, and I spend every waking moment of this season in the cultivation of it. My congregation is especially blessed in this gift of the spirit, and I know in my heart that our work of invitation and welcome is as rich in soul-value as any act of deprivation.

All that said, I do make some spiritual observations–at home and church–in this season. We don’t plan evening meetings during Lent. We have a mid-week prayer service (because sometimes, the sitting and thinking about Jesus is important). I try to go home early, on afternoons that I can, and lay down some of my need for control over the growing to-do lists and piles of sticky notes that surround me in the office. I spend less time ‘doing’ and more time calling people, visiting, and just trying to show up for people’s lives. I don’t go to big box stores (where I will go in for 3 things and wind up spending $200). I eat out less, cook at home more, and try to look honestly at how I spend my time and money. I clean out closets, drawers, cabinets, the garage…And ask forgiveness for my many vices, my forms of excess, my attachment to stuff. I try to free my space and my calendar of that which does not need to be; I seek to let go of anything that does not give life to me, or to others, and I ask God to do something good and surprising with the space that remains.

If I need coffee, chocolate, and happy hour to get all that done, then so be it. When Easter morning gets here, I might not be any thinner or more enlightened, but I will be ready. I will be ready to be surprised by whatever God has waiting for us; I will be ready to greet those for whom we’ve been in prayer, to welcome those for whom we wait; there will be coffee, there will be snacks (carbs), there will be abundant bread of life (also carbs), and the cup of salvation will overflow. Lord willing and the desert wash don’t rise, we will have enough little plastic cups to catch it.

Hospitality is a gift of the spirit. I’m glad for those who share it with me, and for those who spend this season of ‘preparation’ making ready the table for others. Thanks be to God.


Photo by Elisabeth Gawne


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  • Lisa Whitlow D.Min.

    What a WONDERFUL article, Erin. Thank you! Drinking my coffee right now….

  • So well said, Erin! For pastors, it’s more about what we’re getting ready for rather than what we are refraining from. Thanks for that.