The forty day Lenten journey is designed to help people see where they are trying to be nourished from places which cannot nourish, and then to help them decide to stop going to those places, and instead run towards the table that holds everything we need.
For example, the thing I’ve chosen to give up is something that I routinely go to in order to relieve stress. It’s a good thing, it’s just not really nourishing (and it doesn’t actually relieve stress). By giving it up during Lent, I can feel the pull towards it, and then decide to go towards something which is nourishing instead. Instead of choosing to numb out, I can engage how I am actually feeling about that day, without judging it. If it was a hard day, I can simply name it in God’s presence and be with the hard day. If I felt hurt and accused, I can simply name it and ask God to meet me in that pain, staying with the pain instead of trying to avoid it. Lent invites me into a different way of interacting with the world.
Lent is not a time to white knuckle it while fasting from something, and then feel good about ourselves because we had the will power to fast (or bad about ourselves because we didn’t). In the AA community, people who do this are called dry drunks. They are not drinking anymore, but they’re still the same cranky, stubborn person they were while they were drinking. They haven’t changed. They may be even worse now, because they are so bitter about not being able to drink (Friends fans, think sober Fun Bobby). This is not what Lent is designed to do.
Lent is designed to set us free.
In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted to save himself through employing three common human strategies, rather than trusting God for what he needed. As Ruth Haley Barton writes in Lent: A Season of Returning, “A true Lenten journey demands that we take a clear-eyed look at our lives and wonder, “Where am I tempted to ‘turn these stones into bread’ – using whatever gifts and power God has given me to secure my own survival? Where am I putting God to the test – disregarding human limitations in order to prove something to others – and expecting God to come to my rescue time and time again? When, where, and how am I tempted to worship the outward trappings of success rather than seeking the inner authority that comes from worshiping God and serving him only?”
It can be sobering to ask the question, “What do I trust, really?” Most of the time, I do not trust God for my life. I trust my paycheck, my persuasiveness, and my abilities, all of which are good things. And to some degree, you can trust those things to obtain certain things in life. But you cannot trust those things if you want to take the journey that Jesus took in the wilderness. He found a connection to God which was genuinely freeing, because he trusted God to give him what he needed, when he needed it.
So what would it look like for you to get courageous to identify what it is that you actually trust during this Lenten Season? And what would it mean for you to turn your face towards the God who can be trusted to provide what you need when you need it?
Some of our closest friends came over for dinner last Friday night, and one of them shared a verse with us, which sums up the invitation of Lent: we are invited to give up certain things which promise to nourish us, but don’t, in order to find the thing that really does nourish us, and we can trust that it will, at all times.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8