The phrase “less of me, more of God” is one of the thornier statements I’ve heard in my life as a Christian. I’ve never really known what to do with it. It turns my life into a kind of recipe with which I’m always tinkering; a little less pleasure, a dash more sacrifice. And I’m not sure it works that way.
And yet I want new things to be born in me. I would like to be more patient with my kids. I would like to learn to remain present in whatever moment I find myself, rather than constantly moving the chess pieces around in my mind, worrying and planning my next move.
Here’s what I can admit: I know that for new things to be born in me, some other things will need to die. And this is the long, slow lesson that we are invited to learn in Lent.
For example, as a speaker, I want to be less and less concerned with giving a sensational, hit-it-out-of-the-park talk, and more faithful to simply living out the message God has invited me to live and teach. But I’m not wild about what it takes for me to learn that.
After one of my talks recently, a man came up to me and the first words out of his mouth were, “thanks for your sermon, but I have to confront you.”
Which is a really fun piece of feedback after you’ve just poured your guts out for 32 minutes.
When I hear feedback like that, shame washes over me and my mind turns quickly to fight or flight mode. I didn’t just make a mistake; I am a mistake. I devastated someone with my words. I am the worst speaker who has ever graced a stage. Or, who is this crazy person and what can I say to get them out of my face?
But this man gracefully and directly explained how I had unknowingly marginalized a certain people group, and I knew he wasn’t crazy. He was right. I felt sick. I apologized. Though it was hard to hear, it was a gift.
I blew it. I made a mistake. Afterwards, I realized that I have an expectation that I’ll never do that kind of thing (make a mistake). Which is ridiculous. But as the day went on, I also realized that I was able to call it what it was (a mistake), and move on. Though it definitely entered my mind in the hours that followed, it didn’t taunt me.
Mistakes like that used to take me out. And so I realized: I am growing. Certain things in me are dying. New things are being born. It was a good moment.
As Ruth Haley Barton writes in her fabulous little book Lent: A Season of Returning, “Even Jesus had to die in order for the will of God to come forth in his life.”
The death-to-life pattern is written into nature. We know this is true in Minnesota, where in mid March we are longing for the trees and grass to burst back into life, having been dead for this long winter.
Lent is the season where we can look at what is false within us, and turn from it. Lent is the season where we can return to what is true, and real: There is a God in whose image we are made, and that God is inviting us to live out of our actual, true selves, rooted in and satisfied by God. Less of living what’s false; more of living what’s true.
What do you want to be born in you? Can you see anything that needs to die?
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24 (TNIV)