Let me admit something that isn’t very popular in my theological circles. I struggle with Lent. I get Lent. I respect it. But I struggle with it. A big reason why is for most of my life I’ve had to give things up for the rest of the year. Giving things up isn’t new. It’s just October or any given Tuesday or the third week of any month, or any other random season of my life.
That’s not me being unthankful, as I am truly and entirely thankful for the many blessings God has given me. Rather, it’s being honest about the regular experiences of loss and letting go embedded in much of my experience of life so far. Lent is a great discipline, but I wonder if it is appropriate for those who live in such uncertainty and loss. As Ignatius of Antioch put it, “Every wound is not healed with the same remedy.” Yet so often we generalize an experience and a remedy as appropriate for everyone.
Loss and letting go define my experience of Christianity. I’ve learned to trust and hope along the way, so I don’t see these as absolute negatives, just a sense that my liturgical journey with Christ never quite matches the Christian calendar.
I’m not alone in this, of course. Maybe that’s why low-church traditions don’t emphasize Lent, because they are often arising from communities of struggle and loss. I’m not saying anything conclusive here, just wondering out loud.
This isn’t a new struggle for me. Every year I find myself wrestling with the same thoughts. In 2007, I made a curious choice to give up giving up things for Lent. The previous five years had involved me giving up almost everything that made for a normal life in our day and age, so I decided to give up giving up things. And that, oddly enough, was the year that the light switch came on and the bounty of God began a radical rebuilding process in my life, a wave I am in many ways still riding. Not without struggles and certainly not without a radical call to live in faith all the while. Life is still quite tenuous. But there was a fundamental change that happened that went counter to the previous 25 years. I didn’t give up on God in 2007, I gave up assuming that God demanded a life of loss for me. That I had to give up at every turn. He sparked new life into my journey, giving me a testimony that I share in a lot of my classes.
I’m indeed honestly wondering about the role of Lent, even as I read very heartfelt essays on the importance and value of Lent. I believe those who write them. Maybe I’m wrong about it all. Maybe it’s just my low-church tradition revealing itself behind my attempts at sophisticated theological posturing.
This year, I got to wondering about Lent as is my wont, and wondered if the idea of “Lend” might be more liturgically appropriate. Not giving up things to give up things, but instead to give of my time, my energy, my efforts to help those around me. It’s a proactive orientation rather than a self-reflective task. That’s more a discipline I need in my life, as I easily become jealous and hoarding of my now sparse time. It seems that an exocentric reflection fits the pattern of Christ’s gift for us on the cross, not taking or demanding of us but offering himself for us and our salvation. We have been given life itself. And even in times of uncertainly and feeling overwhelmed I can trust in this more than I can ever trust in what I have or don’t have or can’t have.
I yearn for fullness of life, not yet more frustration and discouragement and loss. That’s my liturgical place these days and for as long as I can remember. But life is there and life given so that I can participate in and with the life of others around me. That’s a calling.
Anyhow, as I was thinking about my struggle on this topic I remembered I wrote something on this about six years ago. It’s nice when I find someone putting my vague angst into helpful words. Even if it’s me. Here’s what I had to say then and still affirm today:
There are days when the life of Christ seems so present to me. When I see the world around me with a sharpness, when I experience a special insight, a full hope, a wonderful sense there’s so much more to this life. I want to let go all that which isn’t part of this new life. I want to press on into the life that is a resurrected life. My heart is strangely warm on days such as this. I believe. I know that the Jesus who walked out of that tomb calls me, empowers me, to walk out with him.
My trouble is that today I don’t feel like this. Today, I feel the struggle. I feel the gap between where I know I can be and where I am. I want to be someone who heals, who resonates an overflowing life, but I feel isolated, and silent, and with far too many distractions that clamor for my attention. The aroma of the tomb drifts past my nostrils and I falter. Maranatha, I cry. Our Lord, come.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been much more liturgically comfortable on Saturday rather than Sunday. That day between the cross and the resurrection fits my experiences so much more.
But the reality is that Jesus has been resurrected. This is much more than a nice religious sentiment. This is a change in reality itself. This means that my perceptions of death are not the final word, nor my experiences of frustration the end of the story. There is more. There is life.
Even now, there is life. What was broken is now whole. What was shamed is now glorified. What was crushed now stands. What was dead is alive. In the very place hope was lost, hope is reborn.
That’s the question. It’s rude and unseemly and terribly unEastery. It’s not even a good question for Lent. In Lent we’re supposed to mourn and let go, but we’re not really supposed to dismiss.
But really, Jesus rose again. So what?
Maybe this is the core question that is at the heart why I have trouble with Lent. I’m used to giving things up. I’m used to being humbled. I’m used to being among the powerless. I’m used to not having. I’m used to dashed expectations. I don’t need to be trained how to experience lack. I don’t need to let go of yet more to learn I need Christ.
I need to see Christ walking out of the tomb that is my own life.
Jesus is resurrected. This is the issue I need to ponder because it is the reality which I struggle to see represented in my own life. This is more than a testimony, after all, right? This is something that changes reality as we know it so should have a difference in how my life progresses.
And, I think, it does. But, as a Saturday Christian, I’m still struggling to see how this resurrected life makes a living difference.
The difference, I know, is one about my identity. Do I need to fight to give myself definition? To dominate and control and try, with all my effort, to make some sort of mark in this world so that somehow, someway, there might be an echo of my existence?
The resurrected life, however, seems to be one in which death is not the end, so I do not need to act like it is. If I am called to the resurrected life, then all that I carry with me — all my hurts, my frustrations, worries, fears, mistakes — aren’t baggage weighing me down. They’re part of who I am to be, redeemed with me in a new life.
The future is not something I need to fret over. Nor do I need to hustle and shine for the sake of someone else giving me an identity with their favor. If I live a resurrected life, my life is only by the grace and calling of Christ, who is the only one whose favor I should seek.
Do I need to impress others with what I have or what I know or what I can do? No. I get to serve others because I am freed from demanding their attention, or service, or response. The resurrected life means a life of freedom because in the resurrection my identity can only be found in Christ. I am free to live in a new way, for others, rather than in constant competition or expectation.
That freedom, however, is only a beginning. I have the freedom of no longer being in slavery to Egypt, but I do not see the Promised Land. I who live in the light of the resurrection do not always experience peace, and rarely rest. I am thirsty. I am hungry. I am battered. But I am called to live as though this is not the final reality. Because it isn’t. Is it?
Christ is resurrected. So what? That’s something I have to answer every single day, with every single interaction, living in the hope of a reality that is absolutely true but not yet fully experienced. That is a life of faith, lived out in response to the myriad of decisions which give me the option of choosing death or life, peace or violence, dominance or humility.
This is a wilderness. But it is a wilderness of promise. The resurrection matters, it transforms, it redeems. But I am called to step out and live within its promise, and not give into the grumbling that speaks of desperation, of slavery, of death. The resurrection promises a whole new perspective on my past, on my present, and into my future. If I have eyes to see such a perspective and courage to press on along its trails.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.