I love Lent. I love the idea of identifying with Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, where he faced off with the devil in preparation for public ministry. I love tracing his footsteps and breathing the desert dust as I reimagine his beautiful, grace-soaked encounters with people just as messed up as me. I trudge behind him on his excruciating journey to calvary and imagine myself clinging to his torn and bloodied feet as he hangs between heaven and earth. Although, it’s more likely that I would have been right beside Peter, whacking off some poor guy’s ear, trying to enforce my own will on the situation at hand. Or I would have been holed up somewhere with the rest of the disciples, whining about how everything is lost, looking for the exit. We all want to see ourselves in the hero’s role.
Which brings me to what I don’t love as much about lent: the naked self-examination that exposes hidden pockets of rebellion, disobedience, self-righteousness, and general waywardness. You can’t sit with Jesus in his word, fully present to him, day after day, and remain unchallenged. Unchanged maybe – that’s a choice – but never unchallenged. But I love him, so I lean into this particular fire and pray for transformation.
If someone asks me what I’m giving up for Lent, my first answer is religion. It’s past time to lose the last vestiges of dead religion and pharisaical thinking so that I can be free to live a life of kingdom love. My second answer is whatever serves to unclutter my life and heart and renders me more present to Christ, hungry for him and available to those he loves. It’s not about fasting any one thing; it’s not that easy.
In her book 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole writes:
Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls. Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denials and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God. Decrease is holy only when its destination is love.
To thin out is to cut down, trim back, reduce, prune, lop, crop, make sparse, diminish, lessen, weaken. Such a foreign concept in a world always grasping for more – more of me, more about me, more for me, more stuff, more power, more recognition. But his kingdom is not of this world, and, in this kingdom, he must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. I must decrease.
So here is a good question for all of us who love and follow Christ during this Lenten season: In what ways can I thin out my life to thicken my communion with God? Let the journey begin.
For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance or the sacrifices I might offer to you. The fountain of your pleasure is found in the sacrifice of my shattered heart before you. You will not despise my tenderness as I humbly bow down at your feet. – Psalms 51:16-17 (Passion Translation)