Wednesday, February 13, 2013

And so it begins - Lent 2013

I’ll begin by giving away the ending – By God's strength I did not eat the cookie.


My initial response to the idea of Lent is generally, “Oh that sounds like a profitable exercise. I’ll lose some weight and start some healthy habits…Wait, that sounds like a bummer!” This year was no different. Strangely I had been sort of looking forward to Lent beginning – simplifying life, having more quiet time, eating less and exercising more. That is until yesterday when I realized that I would not be able to eat my favorite treats, so I proceeded to eat a bite of everything that I would miss for the next 40 days including meats, sweets and drinks.

With the sunrise on this Ash Wednesday morning, the Lenten fast began. It seemed quite an ordinary day besides the growling of my stomach. “This whole Lent thing will be a piece of cake!” I thought. “I’m a veteran.”

At work we had our weekly staff meeting, and then were called into a conference room to celebrate the completion of a year-long project. The celebration was nice and encouraging until they passed out cute, chocolaty, sugar cookies – our little treasure troves. Now it might not sound appealing to you, and sugar cookies are far from my favorite dessert, but it certainly looked good in its little plastic wrapper.

I sat there holding my cookie and staring at its glittering golden sprinkles. “Surely it would be okay if I ate this cookie. I definitely earned it by my contribution to the project. It is mine. If it is a gift, isn’t it okay? What could one cookie matter? Who makes up the rules anyway? Aren’t they a bit arbitrary? You don’t have to tell anyone at church. You could frame it that everyone was eating their cookies and it would be ungracious to decline the offer…” The thoughts, excuses, and possible schemes swirled in my mind, as I walked back to my desk.

“Now what exactly is the point of Lent?” I heard the Lord posit. “Isn’t it a voluntary submitting of the will, a refusal of tangible pleasure in order to gain that which is intangible like self-control, humility, a renewed sense of purpose, and a deeper understanding of my love?”

“Yes,” I replied. “It is a tithe of my days, an offering. What virtue is there in saying no to the things that are not appealing? I must devote myself to this discipline or it will be of no profit.” Then the Lord asked me if it was even really about the cookie anyway? It was only a few sweet bites that would be over soon and would almost certainly not taste as good as I imagined. Wasn’t the greater issue the submission, humbly giving up my perceived right, and offering my body back to the Lord as a living sacrifice?

I find that one of the greatest difficulties in life is saying no to myself and recognizing that I am not the only and final authority in my life. There is something, there is Someone who is greater than I and through the Lenten fast he has invited me to empty myself of all that would distract me. He stretches out his hand for me to join him on the journey to Jerusalem, where he offers his body that I might feast on him.

As I sat in my cubicle tears began to glisten in my eyes as I realized the depth of my pride, of my distrust, of my lack of faith. God would not call me to a task for which his grace is not enough. I also remembered that this fast is much bigger than food. It is a struggle to crucify my stubborn willfulness and the proud belief that I know best.

I sat the cookie on the shelf and its glitter no longer brought pain or a stiffled urge, but a happy little grin.

Thus, I offer this story as a confessional – I was tempted and nearly gave in only four hours into the fast. That little cookie was much harder to resist than it should have been. I was far too proud and too eager to consider excuses. On the other hand, I offer this tale as a testimony – the Lord comes to our need and offers us a way of escape. He gives us victory. He dispels the darkness and patiently pleads for us to come, to lay our burdens upon him and to find the rest that we so desperately seek.

Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May your Lenten journey to Jerusalem be fruitful, though the road be rocky with robbers lurking in the hills. May you learn to lean on him and find joy in his love. The Lord strengthen you and give you peace.

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