The Season of Lent: Underground and Appetites
I have tried to strike a balance between “engaging in” and “withdrawing from” as I consider which spiritual disciplines to practice during Lent. Both can be challenging. This year I have decided to be more aware of what I eat. I have to be careful with wheat and dairy, but not so much with sugar. So, I thought I would embark on a low sugar, 3 dark chocolate Doves a day routine and no snacks in between meals which would be considered a discipline of abstinence or withdrawal. Add in daily exercise (a discipline of engagement…maybe the discipline of submission) and voila I have arrived at a Lent practice which both denies and engages. I must say, I have done really well and I thought after 4 weeks of being really careful I might also lose a little bit of weight. Today, I stepped on the scale. Ugh! I have actually gained a pound.
Too many times we try to manage the outcomes of the disciplines we engage in. I deny myself or participate in some activity only to have my hopes for change quickly dashed. Many years ago a friend of mine and I took up running to get in shape. We chose a plan, followed it religiously and entered our first 5K race. The goal was to finish. Along the way, though, I secretly hoped I would become this fantastic, super speedy runner. You know the kind that you read about in magazines who at an older age took up the sport and defied all the odds. I have a rich imagination and I discovered all too quickly that I would not be defying the odds. In fact, at the race my goal quickly changed to Don’t die, just keep running and whatever you do, beat the bowlegged, 82 year old man. I could surely do that. As it turned out, we crossed the finish line just a little bit ahead of the old man and I didn’t die. So, mission accomplished, kind of!
I think we approach Lent this way. We engage in spiritual disciplines such as fasting, prayer, or simplicity and we think about them, pray about them, we commit them to God in a way that moves us forward and then reality hits. We quickly discover we have an unlimited capacity to justify, to manipulate, to adjust, or we simply become disappointed that nothing has happened as a result of the discipline we have engaged in. Or worse still, something has happened and it is not what we bargained for. Lent practices act as the perfect reflection of our true self.
During this season I have been reading Emilie Griffin’s, Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey. She has provided a much-needed oasis for me, a place to cease all my super-spiritual A+B=C strivings. She has provided a road map which directs me to let go of my own desires and outcomes and lay them at the feet of Jesus saying, “Do what you will.” One passage in particular helped me in this surrender process.. She quotes Eugene Peterson. “There are many slow days when nothing seems to be happening. A lot of the Christian life develops underground when we aren’t looking.” To this I say, Thank you, Jesus. For if I judge my progress during Lent by my standards, I find myself coming up short. If every day, we pursue the “with God” life, by participating in spiritual disciplines, then I think we have a chance to see re-formation. Maybe not today, maybe not next week, but maybe as I look backward I will say, “Surprise, surprise, I have gained 5 pounds, but my appetite for sugary desserts has totally changed and while that’s a mystery to me, it is just as it should be.”