When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a Broadway star, so I took every acting class and auditioned for every show that I could cram into my schedule. As you probably know, the first rule of acting is that it is not supposed to be acting–that is, the actor suspends his or her own feelings, thoughts, and identity in order to completely empathize with the character he or she is playing. One important tool my teacher used to help us achieve this was to have her classes play like small children. We would run around school, a bunch of seventeen and eighteen-year-olds playing Tag or Simon Says or Duck-Duck-Goose. The idea was to help us let go of our self-images and inhibitions, to forget what others thought of us and open ourselves to the emotional world of a five-year-old, a world of endless possibilities. No matter how sophisticated or simple, malicious or benevolent the character we needed to portray, the first step in becoming that person was to get rid of ourselves.
As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, it strikes me that my teacher–a crusty old dame who, as far as I know, practiced no religion–was instilling in us would-be actors very excellent Christian principles. We are not called to be ourselves in this world; we are called to be Christ to one another. The first step in becoming a good Christian is to empty ourselves and allow a new creation to be born.
If you are pondering how to approach your Lenten journey this year, allow me to suggest that you go back to being five years old. Play Red Rover. Hop on a swing and let your imagination soar. Build a pillow fort in your living room while you tear down the carefully-constructed walls of your everyday persona. You do not need any children to do these things with you, but of course, games are more fun if you can share them. If you do not have young children, then go borrow some. No parent of little ones will object to an offer of free babysitting. Faith, like talent, is only free to mature when it is not strangled by self-doubt or pride, both of which are hard to maintain when you’re whizzing down a slide. So, why not make Lent fun this year? Repent, and come unto the Lord as a blank slate, like a little child.