Approximately three days into the Lenten season this year, I began my sad dance with legalism. Like troops circling the enemy, I have poked around my commitment’s defenses to see where there might be a weak point. I have chosen to give up something somewhat vague for Lent and so there is a little wiggle room as to what qualifies as prohibited and what is permissible. I didn’t intentionally choose something ambiguous; I am actually much more of a black and white gal. In fact, I often feel that my Lenten “sacrifice” chooses me rather than the other way around. A few weeks before Ash Wednesday, I start taking stock of my crutches—those little luxuries that pop into my head at times of stress and seem to say “Don’t worry. I will make it all better.” It is terrifically pathetic how much comfort and satisfaction I can get from such a fleeting snack food or how inconsequential life’s problems become at the end of a good Masterpiece Theater presentation of Jane Austen and the like (and frankly it doesn’t even have to be that good). What is even more pathetic is how slow I am to consider going to our true source of comfort and satisfaction? Why would I want to pray or read the Bible when I can eat a Reese’s Cup or watch Persuasion for the hundredth time? Why cry out to the Lord of heaven and earth when you can tear into all that peanutty goodness hidden in a wondrous chocolate shell?
A few thoughts have struck me afresh this Eastertide as I have pondered the triviality of what I have sworn to forgo for the next 4 weeks (4 weeks and 2 days to be precise but who’s counting?…other than me, that is). One is the ridiculous amounts of freedom we are granted as Christians. Many, both inside and out of the church, would like to reduce our faith to a bunch of restrictive “dos” and “don’ts” to be obeyed. But my desire to wiggle out from underneath my self-imposed restrictions only goes to show how rebellious my heart truly is. I have a refrigerator full of food and drink that I am free to eat—surprised that I gave up something food related?—and yet all I can focus on are the things that I can’t have. My kids are often amazed, and not a little angry, at Adam and Eve’s choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when they had all the other trees to pick from. And yet our ancestors’ attitude is reflected in our own ingratitude for our many blessings and that hankering we all feel for just a little of the grass on the other side of the fence. In Christ, we find true freedom and yet complain that becoming what we were created to be is too restrictive.
Along with pondering the insignificance of our sacrifices, I have been thunderstruck anew with the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice for our sake. Over the last week, I have been thinking about his life on earth and its implications. In thinking of Jesus’ life as a sort of 33-year Lent, his human experience has taken on a different meaning for me. I think I am self-disciplined indeed when I swear off Diet Coke for 40 days and yet Jesus left the banquet halls of heaven to eat among fishermen and carpenters. I complain when my knees feel a bit achy and yet the Son left a glorious existence to inhabit an earthly body that must have felt torturously confining and frail. Each day of His life was a fast from close fellowship with the Father and Spirit. The enduring of each insult or failure to show Him proper respect an act of humility that we cannot begin to comprehend. Of all the paradoxes of the Bible, this servant King must surely take the prize.
Now Christ is in heaven, receiving all the glory and honor that is due Him. And soon we here left behind will honor Him through the celebration of Easter. I hope, however, that I can find increasing freedom in obedience and that I can honor Him with my heart not just my actions. Too often I fear I care more about the outer trappings than the inner temple. Like a defective Reese’s Cup, I hide my hollow center with an attractive wrapper and chocolate shell. But I want to be the real thing and by God’s grace, someday I will be. Until then, I will keep plodding along in my own lifetime of Lent, awaiting my own day of resurrection Celebration.
“I hope, however, that I can find increasing freedom in obedience and that I can honor Him with my heart not just my actions.”
Lovely thought. It’s been on my heart this Lenten season as well. It’s tough to find happiness at the expense of freedom.