I’m not all that familiar with Lent or the church calendar. Growing up Baptist, our church didn’t follow the traditional calendar in the least – I barely knew a thing about it until I went off to college. It was there that I found a deep respect for the traditions of the church. I love the history and the words and the thought that normal people like me, in their own times, did this very thing, said this very phrase. The communion of saints feels so much more real to me when I engage in the liturgy.
But Lent has always been a puzzlement to me. First of all, I can never place it. It always sneaks up on me, since Easter moves around so often. And then there’s the popularity of it. Obviously, the Lenten season is about giving up and denying self. But I feel like most people do it for the challenge to them or as a way to lose weight while looking holy. My anti-establishment streak kicks in. I don’t want to do something because everyone else is doing it. I don’t want to seem faux-holy. I don’t think God smiles upon that. At least I’d keep my integrity while still acting like a fool.
Don’t misunderstand me. There are many people who take Lent very seriously. They use the practice of self-denial to connect into the suffering of Christ. And I know folks who have done that by giving up chocolate – their comfort food – or Facebook – the most extreme time-sucker ever invented. Those are good things to give up, and good people do so with good intentions. I respect that. I don’t respect those who try it because their friends are or because they want to see if they can do it. And I didn’t want to be one of them.
But this year, I’m participating in Lent for the first time. I started hearing from those I really respect and love about what they were abstaining from. They were well-thought-out, beautiful things to leave behind. And I started feeling the tug on my heart that said, What are you giving up for me?
The honest answer was nothing. I’m not really into self-denial. I love comfort and safety and security. I love knowing and planning and having. I don’t love risk, discomfort, or wanting. And I know that God requires all three of these things from me.
You see, I’ve been struggling with wanting something. I want something big that most people in my life already have. And I am jealous of them, and not a very good person when that I am behind the curve and I can’t catch up. You see, God doesn’t promise me that he’ll give me what I want, but only what I need. I have to believe that God has my best interests at heart while he tells me to wait.
So I will give something up for the next 40 days. Which is a really long time, I realized today. That’s a long time. I will feel the tug on my heart to have, and knowingly put it aside and let God fill the hole. Because I have to believe that’s what he’s doing with me. He wants me to be happy, I believe he wants to make me smile and give me what I want, but he isn’t – because he knows better. He knows all. And he knows that waiting will make me stronger, will help me to find out what I really need and who I really am.
And I will suffer along with Christ. Sure, my agony will be nothing like his, as he took the weight of the world’ failings on his chest, but I tell you, I’ll feel some pain. I’m not telling you what I’m giving up because I don’t want to do this for you. I don’t want to see if I can do it. I want to do this because I will learn about the character of Christ, that he would give up so much for me.
Now, hand me some chocolate.