Lent 2012 hasn’t even started yet, and it’s already giving me trouble.
I’ve been struggling for weeks with the question of what to give up for Lent this year, and haven’t really gotten anywhere.
- Facebook? I did that last year.
- Swearing? The year before that.
- Secular music? The year before that.
- Coffee? Not while life requires that I get up at 5:45 a.m. Besides, my office is getting snazzy new java machines this week, so I’m pretty sure I’d cave in by Thursday morning.
- Beer? But it makes me so smart and attractive.
- Snacking? Refraining from all non-meal food consumption might be possible, but it wouldn’t be pretty. And I don’t think I could do it without ‘disfiguring my face,’ like we’re called to do in Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV): “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
- Lunch? Last year a friend gave up the meal of lunch for all of Lent, noting that Muslims regularly kick our sacrificial butts by fasting from all food during daylight hours during the entire month of Ramadan. Admirable, A.R., as always. But regarding R.P., see Snacking, above.
So as I wrestled with this question of what to give up, it occurred to me that I could take something on instead. But what?
Maybe I should read all four books of the Gospel before the end of Lent, I suggested. Not bad, but when will I find the time? Neglecting my family, work and ministry responsibilities for Bible study doesn’t seem very Lenten to me. And if I just shoehorn it in around all of the things I’m already doing, will it be quality time with God anyway? Or will I just be mechanically moving my eyes over the words to legalistically fill some arbitrary, self-imposed quota?
Today, it occurred to me that maybe I’m ready for a different kind of Lent this year.
Maybe being the music co-director and webservant at my church, belonging to two small groups (although I don’t currently have time to attend either of them), reading a daily-ish devotional book with my wife, participating in a confirmation class, serving as the music director for an upcoming retreat weekend and writing a weekly-ish blog, while working 80% of a full-time job and being the family’s primary housekeeper guy for the other 20%, and being the husband of a wonderful and busy wife and father to two wonderful and busy children, adds up to enough of a sacrifice.
Maybe God doesn’t want my Lent to be about gestures of devotion. Maybe He doesn’t need me to try to do more good things or fewer bad things. Maybe He wants to use the next 40 days to help me to be more like He created me to be. And my well-intended efforts to do what I think He wants me to do might actually get in the way of that.
Great. So what does that look like?
A little reflection and prayer reminded me that my biggest vice isn’t beer, coffee or fatty snacks. It’s self-reliance. I’m addicted to the ridiculous notion that I know what’s good for me, and that achieving and attaining it is up to me. And even though I know it’s an addiction, and even though it’s preventing God from remaking significant areas of my heart and life, I won’t/can’t let go of it.
Whenever I begin to try, I hear the Devil’s Advocate whisper ‘The Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t know.’ Then, for good measure, he changes gears: ‘Turning the general landscape of your life over to God is a good idea, but surely He wants you to take care of the details, right?’
Good point, Mr. D.A. But the God I know is infinitely better than the Devil I know, so I choose to choose God. And while we’re quoting ‘devil’ sayings, the Devil’s in the details. Or, at least, in the fixation on managing the details.
(Notice how Satan used Scripture to tempt Jesus in the Wilderness, but he uses corny clichés with me. Maybe he tempts each of us with the language in which we’re most fluent.)
I think God wants me to drop all the potentially empty gestures and suspend my lifetime subscription to Do It Yourself Weekly for the next 40 days and sign up for the Let Go and Let God Illustrated no-obligation trial period.
Maybe He’ll even help me make it last beyond Easter Sunday.
You’ve read it here first, folks: I’ve decided to give up self-reliance for Lent. Now all I need to do is come up with a nine-point plan for how I’m going to put that into action.
This is gonna be harder than I thought.
Peace be with you.