“Give up something for Lent”

That was the comment left by a friend on Facebook, after she had read my last blog entry.  Her words made me realize that I had not been as transparent in that entry as I had hoped to be:  I am giving something up for Lent – as a consequence of the lesser (and perhaps shorter than Lent) losses of giving up my ability to think clearly, my ability to stay awake during daylight hours, my ability to drive, and my ability to lift a child or a bag of groceries, I am giving up any idea of myself as necessary.

I have mixed feelings about the modern embodiments of “Lenten discipline” – especially when “giving something up for Lent” seems to have become almost a cultural norm rather than a religious one.  For instance, a friend of mine told me about a colleague who hasn’t identified himself as Christian since childhood, yet he gives up alcohol for Lent every year – “to prove to himself that he is not an alcoholic.”  Setting aside what is problematic in that method for establishing one’s dependence (or not) on alcohol, it illustrates nicely how divorced from spiritual ends giving something up “for Lent” has become.  At the same time, I don’t think that the case against it is as cut and dried as blogger Landon Whitsitt recently suggested (awesome article, though – check it out.)  Understanding one’s own motives goes a long way when it comes to this now widely accepted practice.

In any case, I did not choose my fast this year.  Honestly, having missed Ash Wednesday worship this year, I initially felt alienated from any concrete expression of the season.  Instead, as another  friend suggested to me in the last days before the season began (but did not sink in until later) – the Spirit drove me into this wilderness.  I am being given a window into a world without me in it, or at least without me being able to do many of the things which feel essential to my understanding of myself.  I am discovering how inessential I am.  Dust I am, and to dust I will return.

I could never have chosen to give up being necessary for Lent – or (more truly) given up my idea that I am necessary.  And tonight, it took me some time to settle into being even a little bit grateful for the gift of this insight.  But as with any spiritual discipline – any lesson God would teach us – learning that the world goes on without me is indeed a precious gift, and I hope over this wilderness season to find the strength to stop worrying about so many things, and instead to embrace fully the lesson that only God is necessary.

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