I have not been been blogging for months. The truth of the matter is two-fold: 1) I was wounded by a remark made by a friend suggesting that my needy ego causes me to craft blogs and expect friends to read them; and thus, to essentially push myself (or my take on matters) upon others, and then, 2) There were six deaths in my parish from September to mid-December. Both of these realities caused me to slow down, process life and death, and relationships. And both required time for reflection, perspective, and ultimately letting go.
This has been my wilderness of sorts. I am over a year into a call that has been interesting to say the very least. Like any call it has ups and downs. It’d be a pretty crappy and boring journey were this not so. And it has come with some serious pain attached to the letting go process.
So here we are on Ash Wednesday—and rather than offer a text study or preaching insight, I offer instead this question: “Are you doing Lent wrong?”
Has Lent become for you a score-keeping pattern of seeing if you can go all the way to Easter without eating chocolate, or drinking coffee, or using social media? Has the score-keeping for you been about proving something to God or to yourself about your capacity to perfectly plow through the season and never break your fast? None of this is worth a damn—if you think Lent is showing either God or self how strong you think you are—your Lenten journey has missed the point of Lent entirely and is not worth a tinker’s damn.
Isn’t it true that simply giving up something and seeking to abstain from that specific something can actually become our focus and thereby the vehicle through which we avert Lent entirely? It’s like taking an off-ramp on the interstate to avert the horror of being caught up in I-77’s slow-going 5PM traffic. And once the ramp has us speedily on our way we congratulate ourselves on Siri’s ability to speed us along. After all, can’t we always take I-77 when traffic suits us better? And in the same way can’t we return to the things from which we’ve abstained for 40 days all show-offy and self-congratulatory?
Lent lived that way isn’t worth squat. It is cheap practice, and offers something even less than cheap witness, and an even cheaper grace. And it truly is not worth a single tinker’s damn. Lent is about addressing stumbling blocks and road blocks that jam up life for self and others.
What if I-77’s 5PM slow-going traffic is where we’d ought to have been? What if that were to have been our wilderness? What if that were to have been where we were to have confronted our rotten behaviors of road-rage, impatience, or our I-drive-better-than-all-these-idiots attitude? What if that space, which we’d sought to avert, were the space into which God had been inviting us?
Might that have been our wilderness? And might there have been matters to address and exchange in that wilderness? And what if deep down we knew that to be the truth of it, and so chose to avert our wilderness? To avert God’s preferred future?
And to the point of it all—-what if God were actually after something, both better and more costly, than our 40-day Cheetos fast?
What if God is really after a total penitential behavior change? What if God invites us to exchange the paltry Starbucks fast for a painfully pricey “rend your hearts and not your garments” fast? And what does a “rend your hearts and not your garments” fast look like anyhow? Well—what if it is about a real change to our selfish patterns, behaviors, and habits that harm self and others? What if it’s about the letting go of a long-held grudge that divides the family? What if it’s about the abandoning of the need to be right and thereby to run rough-shod over others? Could it be about the forsaking of perfectionistic expectations of self and others that keep anxieties high and fears in play? Are these all not traffic jams of a sort? And isn’t it true that we avert these because they actually cost us something, and we know that there is serious pain attached to the process for addressing them? It really comes down to letting go. And it’s the cost of a worthwhile Lent.
But count that cost!
What would the metaphoric traffic jams in our homes, workplaces, and church congregations become like if we were to make the behaviors-habits-patterns fast the thing we addressed rather than our abstentions from material stuff? What impact might that make? What “happy exchange” might be made? And how might the future be impacted if such changes were lasting? Might this not be worth a damn? Maybe at least two tinker’s damns?
And if we retained such changes after the lenten 40-days were over, might that actually be “doing Lent right?”