I am growing more and more convinced that quiet, creeping, self-righteous contempt is the sin-rot most endemic to mature believers. We’re so sure we’ve got it all right – or, even if we’ve not got it all right, we know what is supposed to be right, and we’re full of pity for those who so obviously aren’t as wise, as knowledgeable, as mature, as sure, as certain, as we are. Without our even realizing it, we set ourselves up as authorities, as better, as more than, and we justify the obvious sin by explaining to ourselves and others why this is so clearly the case.
God spare us from our pride.
Lent is a fascinating practice for non-believers to observe. One co-worker asked me if I was observing Lent; I said yes. She asked me if I was fasting; I said yes. She asked me what I was fasting from; I responded. She has brought it up in every conversation since: sometimes with genuine curiosity, sometimes with bemusement, sometimes with bewilderment. She has told other non-believers, who have responded similarly.
“Maybe I should give up something,” one of them mused in quiet seriousness. I had to tell her that the giving-up was not the point; that out of context, it becomes meaningless.
For Lent, I also am quite unintentionally fasting from leisure.
My job has upended itself. I have ten thousand deadlines and five days in which to complete them; my calendar is blocked out top to bottom; no one around me is in a good mood. There is nothing but the grind for at least another whole week before I can actually relax again.
It would be nice if I had a little time to just relax during Lent, I thought one day, aggravated, and immediately started laughing at myself. What else is Lent but a constant reminder of the fallen state of the world, of us? What else is it but a beckoning forward to the place where real joy is?
God alone is the source of all things.
“You’re breaking your fast,” my husband pointed out.
A tiny spike of defensive irritation. You broke yours yesterday, I thought, and I was too nice to call you out on it, but okay. After that, an attempt at justification: technically it’s not breaking the fast, because…
Acceptance came after that, when I remembered that failure is inevitable – at least for me, if not for other people. And I get irritated and justify myself when I become aware of my failures because I am afraid of failure. Afraid of disappointing people. Afraid of being a “bad” Christian, somehow.
Which brings me around to comfort and reassurance, because there are no “good” Christians, and failure is inevitable, and God knows, He knows all of this. That we will fast and fail. Try and stumble. That we are so imperfect that even our best attempts at perfection aren’t worth His glance or notice.
This is entirely the point.
He is a bigger God than any of these things. His forgiveness is vaster than I could imagine. We can laugh joyfully in the face of imperfection, dust off, get up. I thank my husband, because with the pointing-out of fast-breaking comes the opportunity to remember how forgiveness works. I return to the fast.
I like this yearly chance to reflect.
More and more lately the services at my church have become a confetti of activity: props at every service, videos, music, graphics, social media accounts, signs in the lobby, offerings, choices, activities. It is sensory overload in the name of ministry. I can barely keep up with it. I don’t keep up with some of it.
I contrast that with the memory of my childhood church and its candelight service, when the vast sanctuary was quiet and dark and so silent, with nothing other than a clutch of candles to light the dark, and we all sat there, overwhelmed and still. Or the chilled, marble-and-stone silence of cathedrals I have visited in Italy and Portugal and the Czech Republic, when even a footfall seems too loud but where it is possible to sit as long as one likes, to converse with God in the company of others and yet without distraction.
The Lenten season feels to me like one of those cathedral visits: the still quiet time, the reflecting time. And as I move through the season I become aware that it has set itself up as almost a counterpoint to my daily life, which is frantic, consumption-oriented, scattered, busy, task- and demand-laden. This time before Easter has started to feel like a haven and a refuge in spite of its solemnity: a chance to sit quietly with God.
It strikes me that Lent is one of the best times to simply begin listening for God.
I hope you are listening for Him, too.