Lent begins today.
My students have been asking me all week, “What are you giving up for Lent, Miss R?” The truth is, I hadn’t gotten that far. I hadn’t taken the time to prepare my heart to hear what God was asking for.
What are we supposed to give up for Lent?
Something that separates us from God–An object of temptation where we perpetually yield.
Lent is about entering the Desert, as Jesus did.
And the desert is a place of deprivation. A place where, absent of all that brings us comfort, absent of all that distracts us from our grief and sin, absent of the basic provisions we’ve taken for granted, we have to face ourselves.
So we give up something as a symbol and use it as a key to unlock the place where we go to meet God.
Entering the desert is about willingly wearing the mantle of helplessness. Where we give up the ability to fend for ourselves, we lay raw and open and vulnerable.
We do this because we’ve seen that in the desert is where Jesus was closest to His Father.
I don’t know what to give up, but I heard the words of Joel at Mass today:
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
As I listened to the students, I heard them struggling to make meaning out of the Catholic requisite fasting. I made the mistake of checking tumblr for posts on Lent. People don’t seem to get it.
It’s about tearing your heart, not just tearing yourself away from sweets and soda and social media. We tear our hearts away from those false lovers who lie to us–from the things that pretend to make us happy. And those false things we’re willing to believe.
I don’t want to be one of those people who gives up something just because it’s that time of year. I want the need to break my heart free from its toxic attachments to be what drives the deprivation.
Last year, I had a really intense Lenten fast. I went 40 days with a bare face–the first time since middle school I’d been completely without makeup. Talk about having to face yourself.
Ash Wednesday left me feeling really Fragile. It was a grueling 40 days.
(Read about it HERE)
The thing is, I’m not sure I am capable of that sort of undertaking right now; I’m not sure that’s what the Father is asking for, anyway.
In or out of Lent, this day’s work is no less about obedience than any other.
In or out of Lent, this day’s work is no less about Love.
Last year, I went into the desert with the question: “Am I enough?”, and after all that, I’m not sure I found the answer.
But maybe it was because I was asking the wrong question.
Jesus goes into the desert in Matthew 4, where His temptations surely made him face the question I had:
Satan tempted him with Security: “Turn these stones to bread,”– “Provide for yourself because no one else will”
Approval: “Throw yourself off this building”–“Do something spectacular so that people affirm and admire you”
Control: “Bow down to me and you can make the life you want.”
These temptations made Him face his true self. He withstood them because that self had been revealed at his baptism in Matthew 3: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
The only way to survive the desert–to be free from the need for security, affirmation, and control–is to enter it as the Beloved of God.
I guess this Lent I am going into the desert with a new question:
Do I deeply know–truly BELIEVE–I am loved by God?
Do I have enough knowledge of that Love to override my need to know the future, the need to have appreciation and acceptance from people, and my need to define and attain my own happiness?
If you’re giving something up for Lent, be sure you enter that desert armed with knowledge and awareness that you are the Beloved of God.
Your life depends on it.
Inadvertently, I entered a place where my future is undetermined, and where much of what I love about my life is on the line. I am waiting on some big answers and facing some big decisions that depend on those answers. And strangely, I’m facing about 40 days of this interim before I know what’s next.
While I wait, I am struggling with fear and sadness. I am working hard to be ok with any outcome, but there are both things I dread and things I want so much I’m outright begging God for them.
Like Abraham with Isaac, this obedience asks me for everything–and the Lord might send a ram for the life I love to be spared.
Or like Jesus, I might beg for the cup to be taken, but then still have to carry through with it–
Your will be done.
Come what may, I obey because I live by the goodness of the Father.
Whatever it is, my Peace, my life
for the next 40 days and those after
depends on how well I know I am the Beloved of God.
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen