I love Lent.
On one level its like the total experience, holistic – a spiritual, physical , mental and emotional detox.
It’s also been historically a significant part of my walk with God. Back in the day at St. Tom’s, Lent was always so powerful. There was always a Lent series, during which we’d seem to be collectively undone.
On a personal level, Lent has often functioned like the engine room of my year.
Many battles were won or lost during Lent, even if the actual outcome was months into the distance. I think its because Lent is a time to focus on surrender. It’s the stripping away, the austerity I love. I’m not saying its necessarily been a pleasant experience, because it hasn’t. But in the pain of letting go and letting God, I’ve learned to embrace the ‘worthwhile’.
Lent. The power of it all, the intensity of it all. The confrontation of it all, the wilderness of it all. The total surrender of it all.
The cultural norm during Lent tends to be to give something up. Maybe its a catch up on those New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps a genuine attempt to control things in our world that tend to control us – TV, junk food, alcohol, gossip, retail therapy. Or at least place their control into God’s hands.
Abstinence can be tough. It reveals the voids our mini addictions fill; it exposes the hurts that keep us entrenched in certain attitudes. And yet its not as tough as working out what to do with all we discover about ourselves by giving up something as random as chocolate, shopping, alcohol, multi-tasking for a mere 40 days.
But if we’re that controlled by the world around us, the marketing messages of big companies, magazine covers, the stuff in the refridgerator – we’d like to know, right?
A norm I’ve come to appreciate in recent years is the discipline of taking up something. Being intentional, the discipline of engagement. On first glance, it might seem like something of a cop out. Where’s the pain in the discipline of engagement? I know, I’ll take up shopping this year, I will take up a new Bible study.Maybe it does sound too easy.
But then we think of engaging in forgiveness, choosing to bless instead of curse (or nurse the wound of) the one who broke you in two. Or engaging in eating, when you know you freak out about losing weight. Or engaging with relationships, friendships at a deeper level, when you find trust and vulnerabilty impossible.. Or engaging in a new mission, outside of your comfort zone, knowing it’ll cost you in money, time and effort. Engaging with your kids, your marriage, your job, your singleness, anything you’ve checked out of and become passive about simply because its easier than facing pain. When you look at it like that, then maybe you’ve rather give up chocolate for 40 days instead.
40 days. Abstinence. Engagement.
Lent. The intensity of it all. The loss of it all. The facing of it all. The surrender of it all. The power of God in it all.