The Challenge of Lent

People like habits. We like our routines. Once we figure out how to handle a situation, we tend to prefer not to have to figure out brand new ways to solve it when we encounter it again, so we develop routines for everything. You probably have a morning routine, a particular way you like to drive to work, a process by which you move through the day. We tend to choose the path of least resistance. The path that we already know because we’ve walked it before.

And that’s not a bad thing. After all, routines are markers of our identity. The things I make habits out of tend to be the things that define who I am. People who practice art are artists. People who practice music are musicians. People who practice sports are athletes. The habits and the routines that we establish for ourselves become our identity.

But occasionally, routine needs to be interrupted. Particularly when it comes to our faith. Because if routine is a marker of identity, it can also become a marker of self-sufficiency. We establish routines as a way of dealing with the challenges of life, and if we become too enmeshed in doing things our way, we can lose our dependence on God to navigate us safely through the storms.

For many of us (myself included), our relationship with God can easily be relegated only to the moments where our routines have been interrupted by crisis. We have God to depend on pull-quoteswhen we lose control, but we do our absolute best to ensure we never lose control. And sometimes, we do such a good job of maintaining control of our own lives that we never have to really develop a deep sense of trust in God.

So we need to develop a routine of breaking our routines.

We need to get in the habit of stepping into situations for which we have no routines and be able to trust in the God who promises to sustain us anyway. It’s good for our faith for us to disrupt our self-sufficiency by willingly stepping into situations that we have no tried-and-true way to handle.

And the Church has already developed some ways for us to practice that.

Ever since the 4th century, the church has observed the season of Lent, in which the Church would disrupt their habits and routines by participating in a church-wide fast. For 40 days (46 including Sundays, which were considered feast days), Christians would eat only one meal each day in the evening. The fasting was supposed to prepare the hearts of the Church for Easter. The hunger pangs would remind the fasting Christians that they are dependent on God for their strength and their life.

In modern observance of Lent, instead of giving up most food, many people select one or two foods, possessions, or habits to surrender for 40 days instead. The observance is slightly different, but the purpose is the same – by disrupting our routines, we remind ourselves of our dependence on God.

So if you aren’t giving anything up for Lent, let me recommend it. Identify an area in your life that you have always been pretty much self-sufficient, and throw yourself onto the mercy and sustenance of God.

Maybe, like the early church, it’s food. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you felt truly hungry. Food has always been available whenever you wanted it. Perhaps you would benefit from picking one day a week until Easter to go without food and trust that God will sustain and protect you in your hunger.

Maybe it’s coffee.  You just cannot get a good start to the day without a cup of coffee. You’re miserable until you’re on that second or third cup. Maybe, until Easter, you try to get along without it, relying on God for the energy you usually get from your coffee habit.

Maybe it’s social media. Maybe you live for the little notification that pops up to tell you someone else has liked or commented on your status. And maybe it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to surrender that need for validation by giving up social media for the season of Lent.

Whever it is, let me encourage you to break your routines and practice throwing ourselves on sustenance of God. After all, that is essentially what Christianity is supposed to be – reliance upon the God who sustains us.pull-quotes-3

It’s why God asked the Hebrew people to practice the Shmita every seven years, where they would not farm their land for an entire year. For that year, they had to trust in the provision of God, rather than in their own ability to provide for themselves. Because following God means depending on God rather than on ourselves.

It’s one of the distinctive claims of the Bible. Not that Heaven helps those who help themselves, but that heaven helps those who cannot and do not help themselves. That Heaven helps those who cast themselves onto the mercy of God, rather than seek self-sufficiency.

And so if, as followers of God, we never break our routines and cast ourselves onto the mercy of God to provide, are we really followers of God?

Too often, I have treated God as a divine backup plan. I will take care of myself, but I’ll try to maintain a relationship with God, just in case all of my stuff falls through. For me (and I suspect for many middle-class American Christians), God is not my sustenance, but my insurance.

And the season of Lent reminds us that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

So we do something challenging in Lent – We surrender our need for self-sufficiency. We give up the struggle to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We willingly suffer in order to remind ourselves that self-sufficiency is an illusion. The God who takes care of the Sparrow and the Lily also takes care of us.

So we make a habit of breaking our habits. We develop a discipline of reckless abandon.And when we step into a world that we cannot control, we find ourselves resting in the God who sustains us.

 

 

 

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