Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Giving It Up for Lent

I'm telling myself that I am giving it up for Lent. I know in my heart that I can't manage it, even for those forty days. So, maybe I will be honest and say that for forty days I'm going to make an effort at seeing it for what it is. I'd like to just give it up. I really would.

Lent is about introspection. It is about rigorous honesty, confession, making amends, taking stock of my spiritual life. It is about recognizing that I can't be perfect, I can't earn God's love because I can never, even for forty days, give up the human condition of self centeredness. It is about remembering that I am created from the dust of the earth, and just as surely, just as naturally, I will return to the earth. The forty days of Lent are representative of many things, and one of them is the wandering of the Children of God in the wilderness after they left Egypt. Another is the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness where he was tempted to be fully human, to give in to the cravings of the body for food, the mind for political power, and the spirit for heavenly adoration.

Like the children of Israel, I cave to temptation. I want to know where I'm going, for heaven's sake! I want to believe I'm in control of my own life. I can get whiny when I am anxious about the future. And I fail to see the manna from heaven that is laid all around me, looking past it for something else I think I need. Every now and then I hear myself, and shake my head at my ingratitude. I guess I need Lent more often than once a year for forty days.

When I was a child listening to the stories of Jesus saying no to Satan, I never wondered, even once, if Jesus would cave and take the bread, or power, or glory. He was Jesus. I should be like him. I wanted to be like him. I embraced the 'What Would Jesus Do'. Man, I wanted to be above the petty character flaws of society. I wanted to think I could live without hurting others or disappointing myself. That is a set up for failure if ever there was one. And I missed the point of the story.

If I could be like Jesus, I would not need the grace of forgiveness. I would not be driven to my knees, where it seems I must go to finally look up, away from my own spiritual bellybutton. I have a respected friend who says we have to love our own darkness. That we can't move beyond the stagnation that builds up once we realize just how short we fall of perfection without accepting our weakness as part of the person God created. It would be like the old, baffling notion that we should consider our minds as Godly (worthy) and our bodies as worldly (unworthy). Somehow, in a little wrinkle of logic, believing that I can be above sin is the most self centered idea of all.

If accepting my imperfection can be a Lenten discipline, what would that look like? Could I give up, just for forty days, the striving, aching, longing to be better, which comes with constant disappointment when I fail? Could I instead surrender my self will in an effort to seek God's will? And do I have to do it perfectly?

Ah, see there? I couldn't manage it, even for one blog. Good thing there is grace. Even during Lent, Sundays are excluded from the introspective journey. Martin Luther said that Sundays are "little Easters". Reminders that, no matter how far short I fall of being like Jesus, grief is not the end of the story. There is a balm in Gilead, and I can't manufacture it myself, and I can't earn it. But I can let it wash over me. I can bask in the perfect love. Acceptance goes beyond grim acknowledgement. It goes all the way to freedom.

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