We are about to enter the season of Lent, which is the season we all abstain from sugar, right? Right?
For those of you who might be less spiritually mature, and still plan to enjoy your 70% dark chocolate with sea salt, I hope you are at the very least making plans to give up some of the slightly lesser sins such as:
- Social Media?
- Reality TV?
I wonder what would it look like if we all gave up gossip?
Imagine if we decided to give up complaining, or comparing ourselves to others, or interrupting? What would it look like if we still ate a square of chocolate every afternoon (sipped a coffee, tweeted a tweet, grilled a burger) and yet were warmer, more cheerful, and really listened for forty days?
Friends, Lent is a wise tradition that insists we deal with our heart’s biggest spiritual issue: we are prone to wander, to forget, to blame, and to hide. We want to make our own way.
The tradition of Lent is a mercy. It is an intentional time before Easter to turn away from our dead-end devices. We turn away from the false, and we turn to the True. We turn our face, attention, interest, energy, and all our will towards the face of God.
Sin (wanting our own damn way) hardens our heart, sears our conscience, and darkens our mind. Our eyes and words turn haughty. We compare and despair and bemoan. We are easily offended, greedy for affirmation and self-justification. We seek our will be to done, grumbling and blaming when it isn’t. Sin hides God’s true image from the world that he loves. We desperately need a time of focused heart examination because sin – whose property is always to destroy and separate – will steadily suck our spirits dry to the bone.
The point of Lent, then, is not to give up chocolate or Cabernet or chips, but to give up sin!
God created us as physical beings. Our bodies matter. Art matters. Sleep matters. Bread and water matters, and so does wine. Our relationships are also physical. Smiles, shrugs, sex, eye-contact, a cold shoulder, a certain tone of voice, and all the intricacies of body-language speak to us and others in tangible ways. Over time, what is hidden inside our inner places will overflow into every crack and crevice of our physical lives and relationships: what’s inside will come out.
Understanding this, if my love of wine (or work, or applause) fills up my need for God, I mustn’t be surprised when my body, mind, spirit, and relationships slowly become depleted and dry. Real life will leak out of all the holes I am trying to fill.
The season of Lent is the time for me to turn around from my own darkening path, and to walk again in the light.
It’s not a sentimental turning – it is decisive, and with a cost.
I leave the good things for a short while, so that I can more expectantly follow Christ, and (re)turn to the real way, the real truth, and the real life.
Here are a few questions (thanks to Craig R. Higgins, from his article “On Keeping a Holy Lent”) to ask yourself this season.
- What are my characteristic, habitual sins?
- What has captured my attention to such a degree that my love for Jesus has grown cold?
- In what ways is my devotion to Christ and his church less than whole-hearted?
- Do I give thanks to God after every pleasant occurrence or time?
- Am I warm, cheerful, sensitive to everyone?
- Have I thought, or spoken unkindly of anyone?
- Have I over – or under – eaten, slept, worked, rested?
- Have I done things just for appearance? Have I compared myself to others?
- Have I been fervent in prayer and reading God’s Word? Is there warmth?
Don’t be afraid.
God’s grace and tender care is infinitely greater than any sin you may unearth in your heart during the season of Lent.
He has taken on your every sin, and not in a sentimental way.
It was decisive, and there was a cost.
Our Father’s will is being done, and his words are going out. His words and ways will form us into a celebratory, hospitable, generous, and thankful people who will reflect him rightly to the watching world.
Peace to you in your journey this Lent.