I never understood Lent growing up. I thought it was something “those Christians” did just to prove to the World they were better than my specific brand of Christian – and shoot, I wasn’t going to fight them on it…they were probably right, they probably were better.
I kind of always thought like – okay, no sex, no drinking, no swearing, no smoking, no drugs, AND you also want me to choose something I love and say “no” to it every day for the next 7 weeks? God – you’re rude. Fun. Suck.
And then what is with the crap on people’s face? You’re clogging your pores and it’s stressing me out…
Then as I grew up I started to appreciate the sentiment – “I’ll test my self control for an extended period of time…this will be a fun experiment”. So starting back in College I always gave up something for Lent because it sounded good to be able to tell people I was participating in the Christian faith. Go me! Look at how much I appear to care about God’s role in my life, and because I care so much I will not smoke cigarettes for a full 7 weeks! (I didn’t smoke cigarettes anyway). Anyway – I always gave up something extraordinarily easy (except for the time I gave up 40’s at 4:00 – that was hard – I lasted three days), and honestly even then it wasn’t always a hole-in-one for me…I usually ended up breaking the promise anyway – and it just added to my Christian guilt. Pile it on – keep it coming.
One time I really did try this Lent business because I think I was starting to understand that God had a place in my life – still wasn’t sure where, but I was going to really give it the good ol’ college try (although hardly applicable for me). I tried the Daniel’s Fast for the full 40 days. If you don’t know what this is, just think of like all the good things to eat – and then tell yourself no. Sugar, caffeine, meat, bread (all carbs), and dairy. So pretty much – all food was a no go for me.
At this same time I was teaching and waking up around 4:00 am every morning to make it into school by 6:30. Not sure if you caught it above but – no caffeine. Let me just tell you – not my best moments. I won’t label myself as “not a morning person” because I believe God is redemptive, and I won’t let my self proclaimed personality be an excuse for indifference, but let’s just say – mornings and I don’t necessarily get along. Not BFFs – won’t be invited to next year’s Friendsgiving. I was a total grump, and my students very kindly begged me to please drink a coffee or eat a sour-patch kid…anything. I didn’t though. I made it all the way until day 20…and then my class won a pizza party for raising the most money for something (I totally forget what it was for – I was pretty focused on the pizza). Anyway, I ate like 7 pieces of pizza that day…ya know, because 7 is the number of completion…it’s BIBLICAL, OKAY. And once I had crossed that line – there was no going back.
Anyway – I think I lost a couple pounds so that was cool, but I haven’t participated in Lent since.
Until this year. Let me just tell you – I’m preparing for and participating in Lent like it’s March Madness (if you know my family – you know that means the equivalent of like 12 brackets, 1 crazy eights, 3 different pools, and 1 giant party…Tiernan’s. Don’t. Mess. Around).
Bargaining with God
And now – I’m finally getting what it’s all about. I’m finally taking the time to understand it – to bathe myself in the reality of Lent. It’s beautiful and tragic, it’s wonderful and other Worldly, it’s redemptive and it’s repentance. It’s not all about God giving us another reason to say “no” on his behalf. He’s not trying to be a killjoy here…he’s not being oppressive or pushy or lame. He’s not just taking more things away from us, or trying to ruin all of our fun. My Daddy didn’t take my T-bird away here – ya trackin’ with me?
It’s about sacrifice because of God’s Love. It’s about “suffering” (in a very loose sense) because Jesus suffered for us (in a very real sense). It’s about remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s about dying to ourselves. It’s about recognizing our desperate need for salvation – because hello…did anyone catch that giving up 40’s at 4:00 was HARD for me? Like please, I need a Savior because this chick is messed up, dysfunctional, broken, and just…well we’ll stop there. You get the point. Lent reminds us that “nothing we cling to for security outside of Christ Himself can offer us any real or lasting hope” (She Reads Truth).
And it’s true – if there has been one thing God has pressed so deeply into my heart in the last couple weeks it’s that NOTHING outside of Him can bring me the joy, abundance, acceptance, love, grace, compassion, and provision that He can. Nothing that I reach for in times of chaos or stress can heal my hurt or pacify my anxiety. Nothing even remotely comes close to what an intimate relationship with my Creator can give me. Nothing. Not Netflix, money, shopping, relationships, drinking, smoking, or sex. Not Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or texting. Not. One. Thing.
And if I believe that – and if that is true – why stop at 40 days? Why limit what God can provide? I believe that God creatively fills ALL emotional and physical needs, I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it – so why do I need those things I cling to in chaos?
I’m not like becoming a nun – but I’ve become acutely aware of what I reach for when I’m spent. I’m dedicated to intentionality like never before, and that is definitely a big part of Lent.
It’s a sacrifice to give up these things that feel good in the moment – it’s hard – I won’t diminish that, but is it really a sacrifice if I’m giving it up for my Savior? That’s like saying “okay, I’ll give up my remote control truck for a brand new Lamborghini – what a sacrifice. I like my toy truck. When I’m bored I play with my toy truck, but I guess I’ll sacrifice it…woe is me.” I hope one of you would slap me silly for such nonsense…But we bargain with God’s Love every day. What are you bargaining with?
Die to Yourself
Lent (Ash Wednesday to be specific) is about dying to ourselves. If you don’t already know – I’ll fill you in – we live in a crazy self centered World. Ego, pride, selfishness – these aren’t new things plaguing humanity, but dang, they seem more alive then ever. Lent knocks us down a peg – thank you, I could always use a good humbling.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To me this is one giant – “Meghan, die to yourself, for you are not your own”. This is a humbling reminder that my body is merely a vessel. A reminder that any glory must be given right back to God, any Worldly success is not my own, any monetary gain is for nothing if it is not for the Kingdom. I must die to myself so that I may be a servant to God, so that I may be able to see ALL others above myself, so that I may have a servant’s heart. Guys, all of this sounds really great, and if typing it brought it into fruition…I would be like super Holy, but it’s really hard…really really hard. This is something I work on daily – and I always fall short – and I always will, and that’s okay.
Which brings me to the final “point” of Lent – redemption. This is the part that brings tears to my eyes. Realizing the immense pain and suffering that Jesus went through to literally die for me is overwhelming – I can’t comprehend it. Jesus died a nasty death so that I could come running to my Father at anytime and ask for redemption, healing, love, and forgiveness. Jesus died specifically for all of us – if you’re living – He died so specifically for you.
I can’t adequately describe how beautiful Christ’s redemption is, how intimate His love is, how complete His healing is, and how encompassing His forgiveness is.
I guess the point here is that these aren’t things someone can properly describe to another person. These are the things that you have to experience for yourself. I’ve had people stand in front of me and probably say these exact same words to me with tears in their eyes – and that didn’t make me believe the same could be true for me.
I’ve had good friends experience Christ like this and try to get me to understand, but it seemed so foreign to me. For years I couldn’t understand the people that cried in church, or cried when they were talking about God – and now I am one of those people. I can’t help but get choked up thinking about how good my God is and how deep his love runs.
I’ll just say this. It all started with one step. One step of obedience. I took one step in His direction, and then I took another. And then I realized God was meeting me exactly where I was, He was walking with me. I kind of hate myself for how cheesy that sounds – if I were me like three years ago I would be eye rolling sooo hard right now, but I tell it like it is – and that’s just how it is.
Dear friends, I hope you take a step.
Some good next steps – Here are the Lent resources I’m using:
- “You are Mine: a Lenten Study of Isaiah” – She Reads Truth
- Amen Paper “Lent Devotional”
- “Seven Mile Miracle” – Steven Furtick
- Steven Furtick’s Newest “7 Mile Miracle” Series – http://elevationchurch.org/sermons/
- Andy Stanley’s Newest Series on “White Noise” http://northpoint.org/messages/white-noise/
Oh, and I guess if you’re wondering what I’m giving up for Lent – Malt Liquor – those 40’s at 4:00 still have a real hold on my life.
I’m kidding – sugar – surprisingly has a more addictive hold on the brain than even drugs do…that’s bananas to me.
Here’s what I’m adding for Lent (and forever) – Spending time daily in the Word (no excuses Meghan, don’t be a quitter).
Disclaimer: I don’t actually participate in 40’s at 4:00 anymore (or for the last 5 years) – Don’t send me an angry email. Thanks.