As Lent comes around each year I begin asking myself what it is I want to fast from or give up. In the past, however, the list of things I came up with always seemed trivial.
- Give up social media to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
- Pass on the sweets as a form of self-denial?
- Exercise daily to focus on repentance?
“How does omitting sweets or taking a break from Facebook bring me into to the mystery of the temptation, death, and resurrection of Jesus?” I would wonder to myself.
I would get hung up on the principle of what I should or shouldn’t do and what its significance was to my spiritual life. Often times, I would fail to omit anything because it seemed inconsequential to do so.
A couple years ago I tried to put a twist on my concept of a Lenten fast and decided I would omit certain mindsets or behaviors as a way to enhance my spiritual life. For example, I decided to give up laziness and actually commit to following through with the things I set my mind to like reading, exercising, and praying each day. But that was too subjective and it was easy for me to excuse my way out of my discipline. I would end up feeling weak. My inability to adhere to the strict expectations of myself would cause Lent to feel less sacred—like I messed it up.
So my track record with a meaningful Lenten practice has been a string of misfires, hesitations, and shortcomings. But I think I’ve been looking at it all wrong.
Lent is not about religiously and systematically achieving some arbitrary personal goal. (How many Lenten practices are just personal weight loss goals disguised as religious practice anyway?)
Lent is about identifying with the 40 days that Jesus spent in the dessert resisting temptation and preparing for his ministry. It is about entering into that tension and that struggle of temptation and desire. It is less about saying, “God look how Holy I am, I gave up Starbucks for 40 days! For you!”
It is more about saying, “God, I’m weak. I want to overcome my addictions and my vices and my temptations but I keep failing—I can’t do it on my own. Thank you that my worth and your love for me are not things that I have to earn—because I would never earn them.”
Jesus was perfect and sinless in facing temptation.
We are not.
And that is precisely why we need him.
By all means set goals, give up things, intensify your devotional practices, but don’t focus too much on how “good” or “bad” you do this Lenten season. Celebrate the successes because they prove that you can live intentionally and can use your God-given mind and body to achieve wonderful things. But also embrace your failures because they can become beautiful prayers of surrender to a God whose yolk is easy and whose burden is light.
Photo credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Serra Retreat Center, Malibu, CA