I am discontent with Lent. For the first time ever. And I’m not sure why.
Lent seems to be a poor-knock off to the Advent season that builds up to Christmas. There are Christmas carols, decorations, bright colors, twinkling lights, Charlie Brown specials, Christmas pageants, Cantatas, Candlelight services…all culminating in a glorious Christmas morning full of joy and wonder and good cheer. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get through Advent (otherwise known as December to me) to get to Christmas. So, I approached Lent the same way. Lent was just another precursor ‘that I had to get through’ in order to get to the good stuff…Easter.
I have missed the point. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understood the point. I just missed it. I understood that Lent is a time for repentance, a metanoia or a turning around or changing one’s mind. I could easily parrot the Sunday School answer that Lent is a time where we are to give up the ‘bad stuff’ we do and try to refocus on Godly things. But I never did it…really.
Of course I knew that Lent was something more than that stuff that collects in your belly button.
But, I never embraced Lent. I could never get why Lent was so important.
This year, I wanted to address the Lent that asks believers to embrace self–denial. Oh, not the kinds of menial self-denial like giving up chocolate, or caffeine, or desserts. Nor did I make a cursory commitment about exercising more, going to church every week, praying daily or giving more money.
I wanted to try to deny myself.
I wanted to give up a lifestyle that was based on myself first. I committed to a six week practice that whenever I was faced with a choice, I would not choose the one that would benefit me. I envisioned the basics…only enough food to sustain myself—no seconds, no desserts, no ‘extras.’ Then it grew to include how I would spend my time—if someone—anyone—asked anything of me, my answer would be yes (a la the movie “Yes, Man”). I would play more games with my kids, take walks with my wife, help people move, speak to a stranger on the street. I would get in the longer lines at the stores. I would not spend money on myself. On and on…but the basic idea…when faced with a choice, I would not choose myself.
I failed. And failed miserably.
And yet, I have never felt closer to Christ. I have never felt a deeper sense of trust in Jesus’ promises of the abundant life. In my failure, I gained a sense that I indeed can do all things through Christ—ONLY through Christ—who gives me strength.
Why? Because I discovered that no matter how hard I try, I cannot fully deny myself. No matter how much I want to choose others, or choose Christ—I will always fail. No matter how much I truly want to love God with ALL my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love others…I cannot do it—ON MY OWN.
I need God in my life to truly experience the riches of selflessness in a world and a culture and a human condition teeming with selfishness. I need Christ’s complete obedience to God to fill in the tremendous gaps of my disobedience. I need Jesus’ strength to face every obstacle, every problem, every downturn, every stumbling block—with hope.
I am not only convinced now more than ever that it is not possible to save ourselves with good works, I now have experienced why. I simply cannot be good enough, pray enough, read enough scripture, love others enough, give enough money, or deny myself enough to truly understand the meaning of Easter. I just cannot do what it takes God to do.
It is only when I realize what I can’t do, that I realize what Jesus did.
Lent taught me that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try—I am a selfish human being…and will always be. I hate that about myself. But thank God– Jesus doesn’t.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.”
Easter is here. Hallelujah!