Faith, lent, life, Uncategorized
Comments 18

I Don’t Do Lent

DSC00271

 

I don’t do Lent.

More clearly, I do not observe the Lenten Season during the forty days before Easter (Resurrection) Sunday.

It seems an anti-Christian thing to admit, but there it is. And it’s hard for me to share because I am not one that enjoys conflict. I’m uncomfortable with controversy and division.

The three main practices of Lent, I thoroughly agree with: Fasting (to learn to rely more wholly on God), Prayer and Meditation (to contemplate the redemptive work on the cross by Jesus), and Giving to the Poor (emulating the example of Christ).

And further, I agree with most of Christendom that spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting and giving to the poor are important to add action, or feet if you will, to one’s desire to imitate Christ in the desire to “decrease so that He may increase”. (John 3:30)

However, there’s a flurry of business about Lent that blows about and creates more of an atmosphere of religion than personal contemplation and intimacy with our savior.

It’s blustery and confusing to me and, like trying to see clearly in a dust-storm, and it makes it difficult to see why everyone’s doing it. As a life-long Christian kid, PK and over-thinker, when “everyone’s doing it” I’m instantly compelled to dig in my sneakers and ask my favorite question: Why?

Here’s my short list of why I don’t observe Lent:

1. Everyone talks about what they’re giving up for Lent.

People are posting and tweeting and discussing in the coffee line at church (unless, of course, coffee is the addiction they’re denying themselves, then they might not be there, maybe they’re in the restroom line or by the drinking fountain) what they’re giving up: TV, caffeine, red meat, sugar, dessert, or the wilder ones like cosmetics or comic books or texting.

But isn’t this in direct contrast to the teaching of Jesus, who’s very death we’re supposed to be contemplating?

Jesus said (paraphrase mine), If you’re fasting, don’t broadcast it. Keep it private and don’t piously appear deprived with the intent of being recognized that you’re depraved. (Matthew 6:16-18)

A few paces back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about giving to the poor: do it with subtle grace, and quietly, so as not to draw attention to yourself. (Matthew 6:2-4)

And Jesus has this to say about prayer: Pray often and in secret, and with your face and heart toward God using few words and an attitude of worship. (Matthew 6: 5-15)

2. Masses of people party like it’s 1999 before Lent.

I understand that most observers aren’t flashing rhinestone brassieres and doing jello shots the night before Lent, I really do.

But the idea that Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are somewhat connected makes those of us who celebrate Christmas with gift-giving and hints of Santa Claus coming down the chimney look like Mennonites in comparison. Even in less grandiose fashion, Lent observers will order a steak dinner or a quad vanilla mocha the day before Lent begins, as a last hurrah of sorts. Is this the equivalent of a death-row criminal’s “last meal”? My whole life this has confused me.

The discipline of Lent is not to binge and purge as if we have a spiritual eating disorder, it is meant to help us adjust our fine focus on the outpouring of Jesus’ love for us.

Jesus said: Simply let your Yes be Yes. Just that (Matthew5:37); and be the lamps that shine my light into this world, doing love actively so that everyone can see and give praise to the Father (Matthew 5:16); and remember, unless your devotion to all things legally righteous surpasses even those who teach and dole out the word of the law, you’ll not see heaven, because I’m after a different kind of righteousness altogether (Matthew 5:20).

Righteousness wrought by the wringing out of Christ’s blood. This is the righteousness that Paul speaks of in Romans 6. The problem that divides us from God in the first place is sin, which the law revealed and Jesus, mercifully, freed us from remaining slaves.

Lent should inspire not the the giving up of small idols, like rock music or cola, and the premontory bacchanal practice of carnival (literally the end of meat) but the flinging off of pornography, pride, selfish ambition, contentiousness, gossip so we can run desperately, freely, naked of all sin, into the cover of his grace.

3. Lent lies in the shadow of the Old Covenant instead of in the Light of Grace.

The law was perfect and it’s main intent was to draw a framework for salvation and make a way for sinful humanity to come into right relationship with a perfectly Holy God. It was intended to protect and provide for the people of Israel, who were called by God, and anyone else who chose to become part of nation of God by submitting to it’s dictums. The law perfectly pointed to the coming of Messiah: the feasts, the sacrifices, the sad scapegoat–it all led to Christ Jesus (Leviticus and Numbers). He fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17) and gave, with every precious drop of his blood this: GRACE.

Hebrew 10:11-18 explains the phenomena of grace in regards to legalism this way:

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties: again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.

Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I wil write them on their minds.” Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.”

This is mercy undeserved and unearned. Romans 9:16 tells us succinctly, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy”.

I know that most observers of Lent realize that salvation is a gift of grace, not of works, just like it says in Ephesians 2:8-9, however, why would we choose to do in a forty-day season three  disciplines that are to be a natural response to grace as we move and breathe as new creations in Christ Jesus?

All through scripture God makes it clear:

I desire contrition, not sacrifice and mercy always triumphs over judgement (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13,James 2:12)

This is true religion, that you…. provide for the widows and the poor and live according to the moral system set before you by Christ (James 1:27).

It’s the work of the Spirit in you that enables you to do the good things I have planned for you. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Come near to Me, submit to my truth and learn from my love and I will come near to you. I always give more grace. (James 4:6-10)

We live in the full light of the grace and the perfect propitiation that the Law merely glimmered about. The inner rooms of the tabernacle, and the later the Temple, contained oil lamps and lampstands, symbols of the Light that was to come. John 1 tells us that the light has come! Jesus called himself the light of the world!

Why dance in the shadowy candle-flickers of something that could be legalism when we can move freely in the Light!

4. Lent falls short, because religion can’t save us.

A private, personal season of fasting, prayer, and giving beyond one’s personal norm is beautiful, transformational and good. Usually, these private seasons are prompted by the Holy Spirit and when we trust him enough to fall into his rhythm of grace, the emptying and the filling, the focus and purpose, then we become soft like clay in The Potter’s hands, ready to be made into something useful for his purpose and glory. (Romans 9:21)

But what, really, does asking a congregation of 400 to practice Lent during the forty days before Easter Sunday do? It forces conformation. It focuses on the saved and not the savior. It provides a feeling and sense of activity without guaranteeing all 400 church members are “all in”. It is a religious exercise. A well-intended and possibly productive exercise, but that is all.

///

Lent very well should be the lifestyle we Christians choose year-round.

Yes, the observation of Lent and the ensuing Passion Week do, and rightly so, stir up our cooling embers and breathe life and fire into our souls. I get that. I understand that is at the heart of Lent.

But I know myself. I know my tendency to choose comfort. (Ephesians 5:29) I do it nightly when I crawl into bed, soft and downy and warm. I do it daily when I feed myself good food and drink fresh, clean water. I take vitamins and exercise and engage in healthy relationships and enjoy learning. I choose so much good for myself.

If I was really to practice Lent, would I choose to give up sugar (with the additional incentive of losing a few pounds?) or would I choose what’s really required of me, to live as Jesus did — with nothing but the clothes on his back  and in the end, giving everything and trusting God completely–relying on God for every breath?

That’s why Jesus knew to teach us this: Love me by loving others like you love yourselves.

He didn’t come to give us more religion. He doesn’t need our efforts of monasticism.

Jesus knows it’s in our nature to choose ourselves every time. Even when we choose for the good of others, we’re choosing to make it livable for ourselves. I think of the poor widow, who gave her last mite (penny) and was praised by Jesus (Luke 21:2). I think of Mary, sister of Lazarus, who poured out her life-savings on the feet of Christ to anoint him for his future burial, despite the harsh criticism of the disciples (John 11:2). I think, and I hope, that I am as devoted and desperately in love with my savior, but I know I fail more often that flourish in my worship of him.

That is the stinging, pervasive nature of this thing called sin, the disease that plagues us all and no discipline can eradicate–all, only Jesus, can accomplish this. Soli deo gloria.

Jesus fasted and fought the devil in the wilderness for forty days because he trusted the Father. He knew I couldn’t do that. As much as I might claim to live for him, everyone and God knows I couldn’t survive a day or two under those conditions (at best!)

I, myself, need to better understand God’s mercy and offer a contrite heart before I try to present a sacrifice of self-denial. I am encouraged by Paul to offer my whole self as an instrument of righteousness (Romans 6), and yes, a forty-day trial period can be revealing about what that requires. Paul knew better than anyone that this Christian lifestyle is an on-going business of submission, with plenty of failure mixed in. (What a comfort to read of Paul’s confession of his internal battle with self and sin in Romans 7:13-22.)

I want my whole living life to be lenten, little by little, as the Light shines in and the Living water washes over me. He alone saved me, transformed and gave me purpose.

I know He can make me soft-hearted, pliable and willing to serve Him, according to His will and timing.

And although I fail so often, Jesus knows I my heart’s desire is to honor his death that gave me life.

I ask for strength to live lentenly, lavishly, like He did.

Friends, I know many of you observe Lent and my intent is not to undermine the spirit of the observance. Like I said, I overthink and question and dig around. Let me know your thoughts, teach me, as we follow Christ together.

linking with Jennifer here — I love her stories and her heart

Advertisements

18 Comments

  1. Love the way you’ve described living a Lent-life, Alyssa- I’ve always had a hard time with Lent observations, knowing that it was for freedom that Christ died, and why go back into a pattern of thinking that our efforts would please God? It is because our efforts fall short that Christ had to die, and if what he truly desires is our faith, then why would we ever try to impress him with our self-denial? Loved the verses you pulled in to describe the kind of life that Christ wants for us year round, not just for 40 days… After all, if the activities we choose for our life don’t honor God, why would giving them up for 40 days impress him? Thanks for putting your thoughts down – I’ll be sharing this 🙂

    • Thank you Nona —
      I know this isn’t a popular stance, and it seems more than ever that people are doing lent. I personally had to reckon with it and when I was done, decided it might be helpful if I shared it. I’m glad it has been 🙂

  2. You and I have very similar thoughts on this, Alyssa! I don’t understand why we’d strive to get closer to Christ for 40 days and then let Him go. Give up. Slip back into our old habits if you will. I’m still pondering this…in my own way….
    So proud of you for sharing your heart! thank you!

  3. Oh, Alyssa, I hear you on this. It reminds me what my friend Amy said during Advent this year: When did Christmas become a race? And when did Lent become a holiness competition? This was my struggle as I stood with my boy and looked at the sky–should I be adding devotionals? Lighting candles? Make them read more scripture? But grace. But grace! And I feel pulled closer because I’m the kind of person that needs these stones of remembrances, but I’ll not impose any of it on others. It’s a slippery slope. We should be tucking in closer all the time, yes, I hear this too. And I stand convicted. Because so many days I rush and rush and let this world, this life take me away from the intimacy I so love and need. This is what Lent is for me: a bookmark. I wish I didn’t need them, but I do.

    But I hear every word you say here. And I’m giving a big “Amen!” 🙂

    • I agree, I need bookmarks, too. Sometimes I have them when I’m in the garden, watching a spider weave her web or late at night when I awake and turn to the word in a sleepless state, sometimes I am bookmarked at church or in the car. I know that God has pressed into me the ashes of contrition, the mourning of my sinfulness and I can choose to respond or ignore his call to repentance and restoration. We all need reminders, i agree. Thank you for hearing me, for sharing your heart, for being a URL friend — bless you today, Laura,
      Alyssa

  4. AMEN! WOW! Just WOW! Thank you for putting it out there like that!
    I am with you! Our whole lives need to be lived in season of lent!
    Blessings!
    Tori

  5. I say it every year, “God doesn’t want my coffee, red meat, candy, soda or sugar, He wants my heart forever.” And let’s not forget the celebration after someone “survives” the 40 days of depriving….Lent has become a thing to do, when it’s the way God wants us to be.

    • It’s the “do” ing that caused the red flags to fly and prompted me to explore the subject deeper. We have to actively “work out our faith with fear and trembling” and we know that “faith without works is dead” but to replace grace with activity is a human response to that divine act of forgiveness. ‘God save me, so i will do this’ – a response of gratitude is fitting, but we all easily slip into works and religion; doing it on our own effort.

  6. Catherine says

    Thank you so much for this post.

    I attend a small Orthodox church which is highly liturgical and keeps Lent with great seriousness every year, and this year I have been feeling that I just couldn’t. Mostly because, as you say, “I, myself, need to better understand God’s mercy and offer a contrite heart before I try to present a sacrifice of self-denial.”

    I am one of so many these days who did not have a nurturing childhood and therefore find it difficult to know deeply–or at all–that God loves me. Recently I felt called to really let Him show me His love before I try to go much further in my Christian walk.

    But in the midst of this calling, Lent “snuck” up on me and with it all the old misgivings: “Well, can I do enough this year to make sure I don’t disappoint God? Maybe I could try harder than usual, and then He will love me for sure, won’t He? But what is enough and what is harder?”

    So, I privately resolved to not “do” Lent, and just to continue meditating on God’s love for me until it really sinks in. Yet, I was feeling guilty for striking out on my own in this way, and then I found this post of yours which expresses so much of what I’m feeling. Thank you. Thank you very much.

    • Catherine,
      Your honest, soul-searching comment blessed me in so many ways. Yes, sink into God’s love, lean into his arms, find in Jesus the unforced rhythms of grace. He does love you, he knows your past and your future, your doubts and everything! And he cares. He knows the tenderness of your heart because he made you and redeemed you. If I can encourage you in this: our salvation is indeed corporate, for he came to call the church his Bride, but our salvation is intimately personal, unique and tailored. Jesus knows and the loves so expansively and so individually, that we may never really comprehend how that’s possible. So as you meditate on his love, seek out his truth in the word. As you remove the doubts and misgivings of your past, fill the void with promise and truth. He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him. He never hides. Bless you, Catherine, on your faith-walk. I will remember you and pray.
      Alyssa

  7. I appreciate your honesty and your fair, constructive look at why we do what we do. A worthy read, here.

    Forty days of giving up candy or red meat or whatever means scant little, if we don’t “die daily” in every season. That’s part of the reason we keep a long, iron spike on our table all year long — so we never wander too far from the reminder of Christ’s death.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks, Jennifer.
      I know I get swept along and forget to contemplate the sacrifice that gives me life. We need reminders, visual or practical or spiritual. I am grateful for the Holy Spirit’s quiet power that reminds me, stops me in my quick pace and gives me opportunity for communion at any moment–This was a difficult piece to write, but I’m glad I worked through it in black and white.

  8. Bill Archer says

    As one who appreciates your writing and the heart that comes through your writing, I hope you don’t mind if I offer a different perspective. I have been a Christian for a long time—decades! But only in the last five years have I actively observed Lent. This observation has brought a wealth of grace to my soul along with a deeper sense of joy in the Resurrection.
    Any spiritual discipline may carry with it the opportunity for abuse. Perhaps it is not surprising that Lent should be disingenuously practiced by some. Thank you for your cautions. We should not make a show of our spirituality. Nor should we overindulge on the day before Lent begins. We should also beware of any tendencies toward legalism or the thought that some spiritual discipline will save us when Jesus alone can do that. Your warnings are eloquently stated. Any spiritual offering will be empty, at best, if motivated by anything other than love.
    For me, Lent does not lie in “the shadow of the Old Covenant.” The three primary disciplines of Lent—fasting, prayer, and giving to the poor—are all comfortably located in the New Testament and receive strong endorsements from Jesus himself. Rather, it lies in the shadow of the cross. In that shadow I see the ugly darkness of my sin, its brute force pounded the nails into His hands and feet. It is a painful process, but I learn to hate my sin rather than ignore it or, worse, make excuses for it. I see it for what it is, the rejection of God and of His love. In this shadow I also hear the invitation to be crucified with Christ. The fasting aspect of Lent, again, when motivated by love, can be a source of grace in this regard. The Apostle Paul said, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified from the prize.” We are exhorted to offer not our souls as living sacrifices, but our physical bodies, and this becomes our spiritual worship. It is a small thing to give up a meal, but it can be a way of saying, “Jesus, accept this imperfect, insignificant sacrifice as an expression of my deep gratitude for your perfect sacrifice and of my desire to obey you rather than to follow my sinful desires.”
    So, shouldn’t this be our practice year round? Why should it only be focused during a forty-day period dictated by the calendar? To me, the answer is, yes, we should practice a lifestyle of self-denial. We should take up our cross daily. Benedict of Nursia who is regarded as the father of western monasticism said that life “ought to be a continuous Lent.” However, there is also the idea that some days and seasons are different and unique. I love my wife every day. We exchange a kiss (at least one!) every day. We pray together every day. But there is one day when our love is celebrated in a special way. It may even involve Hallmark and Olive Garden. That special day is August 31, our wedding anniversary. Good Friday is an extraordinary day. There was never a day like it (although Abraham may have had some sense of it when he led his only son, Isaac, up the mountain carrying a rope, a knife, and some firewood), and there will never be a day like it again. It was the day when the innocent Sovereign, the loving Creator died. Easter Sunday is an extraordinary day as well. There was never a day like it (although Jonah may have had some sense of it when after three days of indigestion, the whale spit him out on some blessed shore), and there will never be a day like it again. It was the day when Jesus rose from the dead. The only other day that can be considered in the same category of extraordinariness is the day when God became a little baby in Bethlehem. My embrace of Lent helps to prepare my soul to participate more fully in the mystery of these extraordinary days—the crucifixion and then the burning away of the dark shadows by the glorious light of His resurrection.
    Thanks for letting me share.

    • Oh my, you said it so eloquently I wished I had read your response before posting my not so articulate one! Thank you for your insightful and compassionate and Godly viewpoint, it is blessing my day!

    • Bill,
      I love your perspective! Thanks for reading and for giving such a well-considered response!

      I believe that perhaps one reason why the practice and purpose of Lent is so meaningful to you is because you came into doing it later in life. I know that you prayerfully and seriously considered your choosing the church that you are members of and the idea of keeping the sacraments and traditions has been intelligently and spiritually embraced. I respect that level of thoughtfulness. Someone, like my husband, who is raised in the culture of liturgical faith without the heartbeat, misses out on the deeper, more beautiful and deeply rooted biblical reasons behind the traditions, like Lent. I grew up in a church that did not observe Lent, but there were lots of other ways to fall into legalism and rote offerings of obedience sans passion.

      Like most kids who grow up in the church, I had to come to terms with some of these practices that held the label of grace but were anything but. There is a tremendous obligation to please the authority and we translate that to earning God’s pleasure, as well. This is antithetical to the glory of the cross and the grace we find when we kneel before it. So as I was watching people choose to blog through their Lent season and tweet the things they were giving up and creating a spectacle about it, I turned to the Word for clarity and this post was my working through the conflicts I felt in my spirit.

      I loved your response and have read it a number of times — there is richness in your faith and words and in your deed of observing Lent, too.
      Bless you,
      Aly

  9. Yes Lent is ‘religious’ and Jesus is ‘a gift, not works, lest anyone should boast’, but my annual and previously private practice of finding time to meditate during this season is not about show. I was blessed by Bill Archer’s articulate understanding of what Lent is while still appreciating the viewpoints expressed in this blog – what a conversation!
    For myself, when I don’t tell of my ‘fast’ (except maybe my husband) it’s not humblenes, it’s more embarrassement over the selfish things I need to give up: too much of unhealthy habits or ways of living that could be kinder and better.
    I have thought the same thing as you pointed out that church coversations is not keeping the fast in secret as your quote from Matthew 6:2-4 pointed out. Yet, when I hear conversations like that I see them as people who are being lighthearted, real, honest and humble in admitting ways they feel they could turn less to their own flesh desires and be more open to thinking of others, and not for show; I try to do that with the Christian blogs which I love to read too, to see the writers’ hearts and not view them as needing approval and not from God but from people, but as real and compassionat people willing to share honestly their difficulties, despairs, losses and joys in ways that bless me. (When I first saw Christian blogs I thought: “how unChristian”!)
    So I’m not judging anyones Lenten journey or blog journey or what they say or write, but am looking to what it is I can learn about myself and others during this time of reflection. The bible says God loves us and we are His because it is His gift, our lives and our promise of grace and heaven, but I know that some of the habits I may pick up over the course of a year: say dwelling on negative issues rather than taking them to God in prayer and leaving them in trust, fretting over my nails, listening to unkind gossip over a cup of coffee… are not living out or reaching out in grace and so Lent to me is a journey I will always be willing to take! (As a p.s. to that I don’t make new years resolutions, I make them througout the year!)
    I hear your viewpoint loud and clear and appreciate fully what you are saying about God’s grace but it doesn’t stop me from being a woman willing to take extra time to take stock of myself and my life each spring and bring some rebirth to my body, soul, emotions as I try to live out the Spirit that God has gifted me with.
    That having been said, I needed to hear it! I have always been so concerned about works and my failings and I am taking this to heart to the point that my Lenten requirment this moment changed to be to drop all my preconceived judgments and failings and to seek only to look for God’s love in who I am, as I am (for a change) and to look for whare God is in that. For myself this is huge!
    Thank you and God bless!

  10. Thank you Liz! I love that you joined in the conversation. I respect your motives and spirit, too. I realize, too, that we all respond to the working out of our salvation in myriad ways. God honors even me smallish offerings of faith, meets me in my weakness and always fills in my gaps, strengthening and many times chastening me.
    I too, don’t make resolutions. I wrote a blog post about that back in January. Perhaps I’m a stubborn non-conformist:) Bless you this season and I trust God will build into your faith as you seek him more.
    Alyssa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s