Lenten Longings

I’ve never been very good at doing the whole Lent thing. Growing up in a pretty conservative Baptist church, I actually didn’t even know any Protestants that practiced Lent until I went to college. While in college, I decided to dabble in the Lenten experience by giving up cussing. (I never said I was a very good Baptist). This seemed like a great idea to me because I figured I could use it as a gateway to giving up some less savory components of my vocabulary. Unfortunately, my self control usually lasted for about 2 days until I declared to myself that I was raised Baptist, and Baptists don’t this Lent thing, and life was too short to not voice my emotions as specifically and colorfully as I felt they needed to be voiced.

This attempt at Lent went on for a couple years and the results were always the same.

My first year of medical school, I was trying to go through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline during Lent. As part of this personal study, I decided to fast every Friday during Lent. While this endeavor was filled with the best intentions, it lasted 1 week as I justified to myself that going for more than 2 hours without food was far too stressful for me in the midst of medical school. It’s also not surprising that I didn’t keep going through Celebration of Discipline.

Due to my wildly pitiful track record of Lenten sacrifices, I didn’t really consider participating in Lent again until this year. Ironically, my extensive planning for Lent began on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, when the DJ’s on the morning radio show I was listening to reminded me that Lent was starting the next day.

For some reason, I was struck with the idea that I should give Lent another try. As I quickly pondered what I should give up, I heard a little voice in the back of my head whispering “Wine, wine, wine!” Now, I’m quite accustomed to hearing this voice. I will freely admit that I share a deep and passionate love affair with red wine, so hearing my inner voice declaring that it wanted a glass of wine seemed quite natural to me. However, I realized that my inner voice wasn’t prodding me to open a bottle of cabernet. On the contrary, I believe the Holy Spirit was hanging out in my back seat (I say this figuratively because the Holy Spirit is everywhere) just waiting for the chance to let me in on his plan for the next 40 days if I was willing to accept the challenge.

Right there in the car I decided that I was going to give this Lent thing another try; however, to me that also meant celebrating Fat Tuesday, so I drove straight to the store and bought the 2 things I crave the most–a bottle of wine and an avocado. I shared the avocado with Bethany and the bottle of cabernet with my friends at our guys weekly Bible study. (We paired the cab with a box of Paczkis because that seemed a more traditional way to celebrate Fat Tuesday than the avocado I’d had earlier).

Now, I’m about a week and a half into Lent.

I’m happy to announce that I’ve lasted longer in this Lenten endeavor than I ever have before. This time of fasting from alcohol has made me realize a lot of things about myself. First off, I am not a disciplined person. I probably should have picked up on this from my previous failures at Lent, but I really am not good at saying “no” to my inner desires. This lack of self control rings true when Bethany walks into the house shaking her head holding our credit card statement. (Yeah, yeah, I’m the shopper in our family). It also is evident in the candy bar wrappers shoved in the center console of my car because I made the mistake of going grocery shopping when I was hungry, and the candy in the check out line kept calling my name. My Netflix queue also shows my lack of self denial on the days when I watched 6 episodes of Chuck instead of reading journal articles or catching up on my clinic notes or cleaning the house for Bethany.

While I am still trying to dig more into the meaning of Lent to allow me to absorb its full potential, I’m currently focusing on it as a practice of fasting and self denial as Jesus did when He spent 40 days and nights in the desert fasting and praying. As it’s told in the gospels, at the end of this period of fasting, Satan comes to Jesus and tempts Him. Jesus has just spent the last 40 days denying himself of food and water–two of the basic essentials to human life–and he is then forced to stand his ground against the great tempter. Jesus rebukes Satan with the truth of Scripture and refuses to play games.

I am called to be like Jesus, and often I can’t even hold my ground against Satan after I’ve gone for 4 hours without food much less 40 days.

I want to use this season of Lent as a time to practice some of that self denial that Jesus exemplified not only in the desert, but also in his walk on earth. He didn’t want to die on the cross, but he was willing to die as an act of obedience to his Father. In Luke 22:42, Jesus says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42 ESV)

By giving up some of the treasures of this world for 40 days, I also want to be reminded that this world is not my home. I’m REALLY good at getting comfortable here in my world. Bethany and I are both home-bodies, and we have a beautiful apartment that we’ve made nice and cozy. I’ve built a chest and a wine rack and upcycled old furniture to customize it to our lives. Bethany has sewn pillows and curtains and made artwork to hang on our walls. We’ve spent time together in thrift stores, antique shops, and art galleries collecting things that make our home a reflection of our personalities. All of this is fine, but there is a HUGE problem when I spend more time storing up my treasures on earth rather than storing them up in heaven.

I pray that as I journey through the rest of this season of Lent that I can have a chance to grasp onto the truth of what Jesus did for me on the cross. I want the first time that I have any wine after Lent to be during a time of Communion when I break bread and drink wine as a sacrament in remembrance of Jesus’ body being broken for me on the cross. However, I don’t just want to find deeper meaning in the resurrection. Finding deeper meaning to a truth is pretty worthless if you keep it to yourself. My real prayer during Lent is that I will finally open myself up enough to the beauty of the resurrection that it just overflows out of me, and I can’t help but tell every person I see how much Jesus loves them. I don’t want a fleeting emotion. I want a fire!

If anybody that reads this and has any thoughts, I would love to start a dialogue here. I’m not any sort of a Biblical scholar or a theologian. I’m just a very broken human trying to live my life for the Jesus who loves me.

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