These concepts do not thrill me.
Imagine my dismay every year when Lent comes around. Lent, I feel, is an interesting thing. Some people do it, some people don't. Some people think it's a Catholic thing - but in the churches I have grown up in (and continue to grow up in), we have always accepted giving something up for Lent as a fairly standard practice. I've done it. I've been overly legalistic about it. I've screwed it up. I've pretty much been all across the board when it comes to Lent. When I was younger I thought I had to give up things like chocolate, sugar - very obvious things. Now, there's not anything wrong with that, all I mean is that it wasn't so much a prayerful decision about what to sacrifice, but more of a "what will the other girls be giving up?" kind of decision. Welcome to my teen years. I was a real gem.
It is not a secret to many of you that this has not been the most fun year. I struggled with experiencing what appeared to be a time of silence from God - I could not for the life of me figure out what the heck God was trying to do to me. I just recently bought a greeting card that says, "Anything described as a 'learning experience' is probably something that just sucked a whole bunch." We'll call this bit of time one such learning experience. So when I showed up at Ash Wednesday church, I was ready for something, anything, to help me understand what God was doing. I read this in the "Guide to Lent" that I was given on Ash Wed:
"The word [Lent] itself connects us to a season of life. This is a messy season, a season where things get muddy and windblown, where we discover forgotten litter and broken limbs under the snow. Lent is a path we may choose to deal with this mess. Rather than rush to clean it up or ignore it until the neighbors complain, we roll up our sleeves and sort through the debris. Ultimately, it is a journey designed to reveal more of who Jesus is and who we are in response. The ancient church understood that ashes are a prerequisite for Easter, brokenness for healing, death for resurrection. Our ancestors have given us Lent to help us find our way."Um, wow. Not often in life do I feel like God speaks so clearly to me... but this was just what I needed to hear. I cried like a baby. The girl next to me asked awkwardly, "Um... are you... ok?" I was, finally. Maybe other people felt messy, muddy and windblown, too. Maybe the placement of this difficult time was to make Lent all the more enticing... to remind me that I wasn't going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but that I needed help sorting through the debris. ‘Brokenness for healing.’ Thank God.
During Lent, we give stuff up for 40 or so days. We call it sacrifice. But God wants us [me] to look deeper. What keeps me from the Lord? What are my deepest sins? What am I holding onto the most tightly? I have this sinking feeling that God wants that stuff. God wants that so that I have nothing keeping me from understanding. I have to clean up the mud and the mess so my vision is not blurred by those things - so that when Easter comes, I get to celebrate and rejoice without the broken mess holding me back. So that when God makes my way out of the wilderness, I can see the path.
The rich young man (see: Luke 18:18-23) asked Jesus what he had to do to go to heaven. He was good. He followed the rules [i.e.: gave something up for Lent every year]. He probably gave up coffee or something. But were delicious, hot, caffeinated beverages what owned his heart and kept him from the Lord? Nope. "Give up all ya dolla dolla billz!" is what Jesus told him. (Yes. Sometimes in my head, Jesus sounds like a rapper.) Money was what the rich man needed to give up (and not just for 40 days, either), because it was the thing he couldn't bear to part with. Even if it meant heaven, eternal life with God, it was too scary to give up what was comfortable. So the man - a good man, mind you - went away, sad. Resigned. It was too much to give.
I wonder what Jesus would say to me if the story was called "the not-so-rich young newly 24 year old named Megan." If I said, "Hey, so Jesus, I do lots of pretty Christian stuff... I mean, I'm in Seminary. I go to church every Sunday... I try not to break the big rules, and I even gave up watching TV online for Lent. So I'm going to heaven, right?" What would Jesus say to me? What is my "money"? "Sure, Megan, you're on the right track. Just one more thing. Give me [insert monumental request here]. Then you're in." I hope that I wouldn't walk away sad. But that's what I need to give up. All the time. Every single stinking day... not just during Lent. Dang it.
So these are my ever-so-deep thoughts on Lent. I feel pretty lucky to be in a school where I do get to learn more about stuff like this, and additionally a part of a church that explains to those of us who don't know what is the significance of such important holidays, because they are so much more than holidays. I have more thoughts, in fact, on Easter - which I may post later... we'll see. But for now, as Lent draws to a close, how cool is it that a tradition so old can be so easily applicable to our current circumstance?
As we come closer to Easter, and circumstances of life do not get any easier, I am thinking about what are the things I need to part with even after Lent is over. I hope that my mess is cleared just enough that I can celebrate and find joy in the resurrection, in the gift of salvation. On holy Saturday, which is a day when hope is thought to be dead, we grieve the death of Christ. But we hold out for Sunday - with hope and anticipation - because, praise God, death isn't the end of the story. In Christ, it never is.