I had every intention of participating in Lent this year, but somewhere along the way I got stuck. I did what any good indecisive personality would do and I kept putting it off. I read blogs on what other people were doing, jotted down ideas for my own life. I kept trying to think about what I’d give up, what the Lord wanted me to give up, and I got so busy picking the right thing that I missed out all together. Out of nowhere Ash Wednesday arrived and I had nothing to give up.
I love the discipline of the Lenten season. I love the intentionality of physically removing something in order to help us reflect on Christ’s work on the cross and out of the grave. So naturally I beat myself up over my inability to choose something.
Why couldn’t I pull myself together in time to practice Lent? Is this a picture of a greater spiritual problem? Is this because I have baptistic roots and am not used to liturgical practices? In a rush to ease the guilt, I told myself I’d start a few days late and it’d be fine, but I never did. I never picked anything.
And here’s what I want to tell you:
Christ’s work on the cross and overcoming the grave doesn’t need my lent.
Jesus doesn’t want my good works. He doesn’t need my lipservice. He wants only one thing, and that’s to be king of my heart.
I think that’s what Lent is about, taking away distractions and idols so we can focus on Christ. But what happens when the idol is religion? When good practices and intentionality become the things that make us feel better about living in a broken world instead of being mere pictures of the One who will restore our broken world?
This lenten season the Lord did work in my soul. Every time someone would say, “Oh what are you giving up for Lent?” I had to shamelessly reply, “I’m not.” A twinge of guilt and the lie of “you’re not being good enough” began to take root in my heart. I felt like a JV Christian and it was in those moments that I realized something. This idea of JV and Varsity Christianity was based in a works-based theology that I adamantly deny with my lips but hold tightly to with my heart.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness” no longer ringed true. My hope was in my pretense of righteousness. It was in the habit of striving to be holy. We Christians are fickle people, placing our hope in Christ only to ever so often take it back. Sometimes we place it in other things, or other people, but me… well I usually take my hope back and place it on myself.
You see, the holy practices of our faith, the disciplines, they make me feel like I am doing something for Christ. They make me feel like I am being a great Christian. I can be good enough. I can read my Bible enough. I can pray enough. I can do ALL THE GOOD THINGS until God, in His holy kindness smacks me back to my knees to remind me that I can’t. He’s already done it all, so that I can live FREELY in Him.
The message of the Gospel needs no additives. Lent is a GREAT fantastic practice that I absolutely plan on participating in next year, but even still, the message of the Gospel doesn’t need lent.
So this year, I unintentionally gave up Lent for Lent. It was one of the best decisions I didn’t make, because in the not-doing, I’ve been reminded once again I don’t have do anything. As a former pastor and friend used to say, “There is nothing I can say or do that will make God love me more or less.” That is my lenten cry this year. I am never enough, but He always is.
Happy Lenten Season to you all as we await the celebration of Easter Sunday!
May our hopes be in the One who has done it all so that we can live freely,