Here we are: Lent. This is our season of giving up, of moving deeper into self-sacrifice. But I can’t say that I honestly have much practice with Lent. Growing up Southern Baptist, we did not keep to any real sense of sacred time. Advent, Epiphany, Lent: these were Catholic words and cause for suspicion. (You know. First, you’re giving up chocolate for Lent. Then you’re praying to Mary.) Although I no longer share the wariness I had as a young girl (and I trust that my Catholic friends know I love and respect them profoundly), still, I’m no expert on Lent. Even today, I find myself asking. What will I give up? Even this — must I?
But perhaps I can suggest this to each of us: for the next 40 days, don’t give up on desire.
This Lent, we may give something up and find life in our acts of abandonment. In our giving up, we may discover how easily we transfer the dependence and comfort we’re meant to draw from Christ onto lesser goods. Whenever we eliminate the clutter of our lives, there is real hope for recovering life-restoring, life-preserving space. Whatever our acts of sacrifice this Lent, however small, ours will be the invitation to cast our thoughts on the man whose life was given up for us.
There are good reasons to give up.
But let’s not give up on this: desire.
Desire is what makes us human. We want, and this is no selfish, sinful act. Consider why God does anything that he chooses to do. Though I wouldn’t dare presume to understand God, it seems fair to at least say this: he created the world because he wanted to. He redeemed the world because he wanted to. God wants, and his holiness hasn’t necessitated the giving up on desire.
I’m growing to believe that our invitation into spiritual formation isn’t the abandonment of desire but its reformation. My wisest prayer is not, Help me STOP wanting. My wisest prayer is, Teach me to want. Teach me to want in better ways. Let the character of my wanting be marked by trust in your goodness, surrender to your will. And help me to want for better things. Let not my heart’s affections be secured to lesser things.
This seems to be what James in teaching the church in his epistle (cf. James 4).
You don’t have—because you haven’t asked. Or when you have asked—you’ve asked wrongly.
This Lent, if you give something up, remember that you are NOT asked to give up on wanting. Rather, let your giving up carve a more sure path into lifelong practice of wanting in better ways and wanting for better things.