WOW, am I tired of people asking me what I gave up for Lent. I am tired of Lent being a time of dismal misery and privation, as if that would make people holy. What wonder the world thinks of Christians as either dour self-denying moralists or hand-waving cheerleaders for some polo-shirt wearing yahoo on a video screen somewhere. On the one hand, faith lands like a 365 day lenten slog through life, waiting for some far-off heaven; on the other there lies the denial of any claim upon our lives by our faith so why not make light and revel on Sundays?
Somewhere in the middle to be sure, is an authentic Lenten experience.
You know the kind I mean, a Lenten experience that actually fulfills its mission of bringing you into a more meaningful and joyful relationship with God and with your neighbor?
That’s what Lent is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be a time of confession, sure, but also a time of real self-knowledge and not just self punishment and denial. Simply turning Lent into a time when you ostentatiously “give up” something that you enjoy is missing the point, enjoyment is not the enemy, God made you capable of enjoyment on purpose.
Losing sight of that purpose is the point.
Losing sight of the reason for your senses, the reason it feels good to do one thing and the reason that it feels bad to do something else, getting in touch with the purpose is as good a reason for Lent as any, and you cannot get there simply by losing contact with the things that make you feel good.
Down that path is the same self-deception, the same pride-filled mistake that blurs our understanding of God’s purpose, God’s will, God’s mission for us and for the world. We try and seize control of our “passions” by subduing them, by denying that we need Christ for our salvation and we try and do it ourselves, try and make ourselves better, and when has that ever worked out?
When we already are what God has made us; good. We’re not perfect, you understand; but good, fully formed, capable of both great and terrible things, of great art and terrible atrocity.
Honesty is what relationship with Christ offers, honesty about who we are and what we are and deceiving ourselves in a fit of pique over our weaknesses (chocolate? wine? food?) and pretending that we can overcome them all by sheer act of will is not honesty.
It is the greatest lie of all.
It is the lie that says we can handle it, no matter what it is. It is saying no to God and all that we have been given and putting our faith into what we are doing, that Christ came to give a few speeches and make an example of some bad guys and that’s about it.
Lent is for lovers.
Lent is for lovers of the truth, for the honest realization that we are not all we could be but God loves us and that’s a pretty fine head start for anybody. Even better, Lent is for lovers of the truth that over and above the head start we’ve received at God’s hands, on the last lap of the race between birth and righteousness, Christ runs for us to ensure that we win. All of us. Winners.
If you want to give something up this Lent, if you are set on an older model of what Lent means, the give up the lie, give up the deception that no eating chocolate for 40 days will bring you any closer to God. Embrace the joys of life and the gifts that God has given you and try and remember what they are for, what their purpose is.
They show you God’s love. They show you God’s care. Lent is for Lovers, lovers of God, that is.