It’s risk time again. And as often happens while doing this listening-to-God-life thing, what I thought I’d write about today isn’t what’s hitting the page. The original plan will be here next month, I promise. And it’s a BIG BOOTS adventure, so do stay tuned!
(“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” AA Milne)
But today, I have to face this Lent thing. I do, because it’s here, and I don’t feel I can ignore it, which is usually the way I handle Lent. And yes, facing Lent is a risk. Because what I’m going to say risks making people mad, which I hate more than waiting in line at the DMV, which you KNOW is serious not-liking.
Thinking about anything that 1—messes with peoples’ traditions, 2—potentially questions their motives, and 3—asks serious questions about God and the crucifixion is going to get real scary real fast.
What I’m going to say is, I don’t get it. I’ve never done it. Never seen any reason to.
Maybe I’m too much of a legalist for Lent observance. If I gave up desserts for Lent for instance, you know the first thing that would follow. Hmmm, if I eat this snickerdoodle at 3:00, is it a dessert or an afternoon snack? If I give up social media—hey, checking my Facebook while sitting in the car waiting to pick up a kid is totally a good use of time. Plus it’s purely for professional purposes.
You get the idea. Give me a rule, and I’ll find the loophole. Make me draw lines in my life of what is OK and what is not OK, and I become a line drawer. I will focus on where those lines are and what the precise definitions are, and it will become all about those lines. Those rules. Those loopholes. Where is Jesus in there?
I’m not seeing it all bringing me closer to Christ during Lent.
What it could manage is dragging me closer to that all-too-human bent toward legalism. Checking off the rules on my wall of what I can and cannot get away with and still be OK with God.
Which is what God begs his people to get away from several times. It’s what I definitely need to stay away from, since I’m good at finding my worth–dare I say salvation?–in my achievements and things checked off on a list. I’ve clawed my way out of legalism, thank you very much. Don’t intend to be hauled back without a fight.
God so does not want me to go there. So why would he want me to observe Lent?
And, here’s the other thing. I see people giving stuff up for Lent, and I usually note one of a few motivations:
1—I’m giving up ________ because it’s tradition. My church does it. I’ve always done it. It would be weird not to do it. To which I think, it’s my Swedish tradition to eat blood sausage and fish balls, but some traditions are meant to die. Quickly.
2—I want to lose weight, and giving up chocolate or ice cream or sugar is a sure-fire way to get rid of ten pounds AND sound really holy doing so. It’s a win-win.
3—When I give up something, I can talk about it on Facebook, so other people can see how holy I am. Unless I’m actually giving up Facebook, which means you’ll have to see how holy I am by my absence. Which does work, in a strange negative-energy sort of way.
And—do I really need to say this?
These are not good reasons.
If I’m giving up, say, chai tea lattes for forty days out of ignorance, personal gain, or pride, not only am I going to be cranky for forty days, but I suspect I will be no closer to Jesus than I was on Fat Tuesday.
The other reason I’ve never practiced Lent is that it’s not supposed to be a one-shot deal. I rebel at the idea that I can think about being like Jesus for only one season. Being like Jesus is supposed to consume my everyday will. Isn’t it flirting with apathy just a little to say I’ll work on this God thing seriously until Easter, and then, well, we’ll see after that?
So help me out here. Why would I do this?
Sigh. I have many friends whom I deeply respect giving up some of these things for Lent. They are not people of apathy or loose motivations. They have reasons. They love God with all their mind and hands and heart and will. I want to figure out those reasons.
So I decided to look into the original purposes of these forty days. There, maybe, I’d find answers for all my whys. The original purpose, apparently, was to prepare the believer–through prayer, repentance, giving, and self-denial. It never says what the believer is being prepared for. And that bothers me, since it look very much like what I have problems with. We don’t know why, but it’s got to be good for us. Like a religious edict to eat your brussels sprouts.
“Just do it” is a motto I can get behind when I’m sitting in committee meetings for a couple hours. But in matters of faith practice? Not so much.
But another thing I read catches my attention. “The forty days of Lent was meant to remind us of the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert to prepare for his ministry.” That word ‘prepare’–it comes again. But this time, there’s a reason. A preparation for something. A purpose behind the denial. And here it is—
so Jesus can go out and do what he came to do, with laser-focus on why he’s doing it.
Would that change the way we do Lent?
I doubt that leaving chocolate behind is going to prepare me for loving the world. I don’t believe, in my heart of hearts, that giving up caffeine will give me focus on what matters going forward. What I need, if I’m going to understand and do this Lent thing, is to know what will bring me to a place where I’m more prepared to focus on what God put me here to do and, yes, just do it.
I need a practice toward something rather than a push away.
So, as I think about coming to terms with this Lent, I realize there is something I can do. I can move toward being more like him. I can practice something that will prepare me to love the world. I can focus on his humility and make it as much mine for forty days as I can, hoping it will take hold and last.
That’s the risk I’d ask you to take this Lent. Find your motivation. Be honest about it. Whether or not you’ve ever given up so much as a quarter of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, figure out why or why not. It is risky. You may not like the answer. (Im’ not sure I like mine. But i’m going to do it.)
It’s always risky to look at Jesus and ask him if you know him well enough to be walking with him through life. It’s scary because–He’ll answer.
What are you moving toward this Lent? What is He preparing you for? Just do that.