Here’s The Best Thing I’ve Found To Give Up For Lent
For everything there is a season,and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to break down and a time to build up… a time to keep and a time to cast away. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3, 6
I didn’t grow up going to a traditional church, so I’m not always familiar with the calendar and seasons of the liturgical year. I don’t know about much beyond the obvious celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
As an adult, though, I’ve begun to find meaning in the practices and liturgy of Advent, so I’m wondering if the same might be true of Lent.
The forty days of Lent are meant to act as a mirror to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting, preparing for his ministry and affirming his identity. People often choose to give something up, or fast from something during this season to identify with Jesus, and refocus on what is really important. It’s a symbol of the death that precedes the resurrection.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. I missed the start of it by being ill and dealing with all the disorientation that occurs when you don’t feel like yourself. So it seemed like a good time to reflect on things that might need to given up, or cast away. What might be holding me back? Are there any unhealthy habits that need to be let go? What old things need to be cleared away in order to make room for the new?
As I started to recover, and found I could concentrate to read again, I picked up a book called Tattoos on the Heart. It’s the account of Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has worked with gang members in L.A. over the last 30 years. The stories about “homies” transforming their lives are moving, insightful, funny, heartbreaking and so full of hope, even in the darkest of places.
It’s not an unrealistic book, though. Some people choose not to turn their lives around. Gang-related crime is much lower, but hasn’t disappeared altogether. Homies still get shot, and at the time of writing, Greg (or G-dog, as the homies call him) has done 270 funerals for people who died at the hands of gang violence. People he knew and loved.
And yet woven throughout the book, there is an incredible sense of peace and trust in ‘the slow work of God.’ It comes from a deep understanding of God’s love, that ‘God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment’ (p.28).
Boyle goes on to write that:
‘God’s unwieldy love, which cannot be contained by our words, wants to accept all that we are and sees our humanity as the privileged place to encounter this magnanimous love. No part of our hardwiring or our messy selves is to be disparaged. Where we stand, in all our mistakes and imperfection, is holy ground. It is where God has chosen to be intimate with us and not in any other way than this’ (p.35).
Reading this book I realised that I need to let go of the idea that I’m not really loved. It’s easy to look at the hard circumstances of life and assume that they are occurring because God is somehow disappointed or disapproving of me; that I didn’t measure up in some way, or wasn’t good enough.
I don’t know why bad things happen. I don’t know why life doesn’t work out sometimes, but I’m beginning to see that it has nothing to do with how much God loves us. We are not loved in spite of our personality quirks, brokenness and mistakes, we are just loved. Full stop. We’re already living right in the middle of God’s affection, we just need to open our eyes to discover it in ever-deeper ways. And when we begin to recognise the delight God has in us, we can recognise it in other people, too.
So for Lent, I’m giving up the belief that I’m not loved. It seems appropriate for a Lenten season that began on Valentine’s Day this year. I think it will be a journey, and something I have to keep giving up way beyond Lent. But I’m starting here, reminding myself that I’m already completely loved and accepted, in this moment, exactly as I am.
How about you?