I love it when people try to outsmart the Lent system. The scheme typically involves giving up things like grand larceny or vehicular homicide or snowshoeing through the hills of Saskatchewan. Get it? We can exploit the loophole in the system by giving up something we normally never do anyway. Brilliant!
This, of course, is missing the point entirely.
Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter (not including Sundays, during which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection), has traditionally been a season of repentance for believers. This season is not so much about the giving up of things as it is about the letting go of those things that hold us back from loving God whole-heartedly. Perhaps we can apply John Piper’s principle on fasting to the season of Lent: Our prayer, as we let go of certain things, becomes “This much, O God, I want You.” As is the case with many of our traditions, though, it is all too easy to miss the meaning behind Lent as we focus on its outward expression.
We might be tempted to go the route of the hardcore, eschewing anything that we might happen to enjoy. Picture the person who cannot join you for lunch at Applebee’s after church because she has given up red meat, television, caffeine and all refined sugar products for Lent. Or, we might reject Lent wholesale, because it reeks of lifeless religion and artificial rituals. Or, we could choose the path of a smirking post-modern, enjoying Lent the way a hipster enjoys his Pabst Blue Ribbon at that trendy bar in Williamsburg—as the latest ironic blast from the past.
Perhaps Lent can become meaningful for us if we take this season as an opportunity to breathe a little bit. Do you ever feel like you are hyperventilating, even when you are sitting still? The stress, the fear, the anxiety, the bills, the exams, the future, the past—it can all become a little overwhelming at times.
Sometimes, without thinking about it, we can find ourselves being carried by a current toward a destination we did not choose. We might have kept our noses a little too close to the grindstone, not taking the time to look up and see where we are going.
Different seasons, as we learned in grade school, are necessary to support life. A year-round harvest would quickly become a year-round famine. Nature has a rhythm of growth and rest.
There is also a rhythm in our lives with God. Too often, in our desire to be passionate lovers of Christ, the rhythm of our lives sounds something like the over-adrenalized stomping of Riverdance. We busy ourselves making history, winning the campus for Christ, overturning tables and the like. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for this non-stop commotion to come to a grinding halt.
Perhaps this can be a season of stillness after all the noise, or a time of reflection after all the action. Living life with God is less like the quick thrill of Dirty Dancing (Scripture has some more meaningful things to say than, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” after all) and more like a slow dance with your love of many years. She already knows you are going to step all over her feet. He does not mind that you have not learned all the latest moves. It’s not about the music or the moves. What matters is the gaze of your love, as you sweep your way across the floor together.
The joy of Easter should be unparalleled. We hear the bells ringing and we are singing, and we know about Jesus’ final victory over sin and death and yet, still, it can be difficult to connect that with how we actually feel. Maybe, if we take the time during Lent to walk more intimately with God, to listen more closely, to slowdance with our truest love, we will experience the matchless joy of the One for whom we have made room.