It's been years since I gave anything up for Lent. And here are the pretty little lies I tell myself about this:
- I'm a disciplined person. Fasting is a spiritual practice for those who don't live as moderately as I.
- There's nothing really to be gained by giving up something for forty days. In fact, there might be unnecessary zeal in trying.
- I have nothing to give up: no vices, no crippling neuroses, no secret addictions.
I am beginning to recognize the depth of that fraudulence. I'm also realizing that I, more than anyone, am in desperate need of a Lenten fast.
If the habits of regular Bible reading and prayer in my life are part of what keeps me spiritually grounded, the danger in that daily routine is for how self-reliant it can become. The alarm sounds, I get up, I make coffee, I open the Scriptures. It serves to construct this dangerous illusion that I'm piloting this whole thing. So long as my "quiet time" yields the impression that God has spoken to me, so long as I sustain clarity for my questions, so long as I feel sent into the world to do something purposeful, life hums pleasantly. I feel connected with God.
But spiritual routines, like every autopilot, can unexpectedly fail. You can be left wondering what you have done or failed to do to make God mute.
There is nothing to do in that moment (which can lengthen to days, to weeks, and for some, to years) but to wait and to listen.
In fact, I think listening might be the most patient of all the spiritual disciplines. (And here's a book I'm really looking forward to: The Listening Life by Adam McHugh.)
Listening feels a lot like getting lost in the woods and trying to regain bearings. Living in a big city, I wouldn't really know anything about this (and it's dangerous to ever write about something of which you're completely ignorant), but I'm imagining that if I were ever lost in the woods, I'd have to slow down. Hunt for something recognizable. Listen to the sounds orienting me to direction.
Listening can feel like lostness. You have to prevail upon your senses. You have to be patient.
So that's a bit of where I've been recently: lost and listening. Lost in a book manuscript, trying to make sense of where it's supposed to be headed. And lost in a bit of deafening silence from God.
The good news is, I've found a clearing. The listening has led somewhere spacious. The book has a new direction. And so do I.
I'm headed toward a Lenten fast.
Yesterday, I was reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's fantastic book, The Wisdom of Stability, and here was a tiny little paragraph that unraveled the fraudulence I was telling you about. Wilson-Hartgrove is talking about the story of Legion, a man from whom Jesus casts countless demons. The demons flee to a herd of pigs, who rush over a cliff and drown in a lake. The man, once as wild as a beast, is now composed and calm:
"The sight of this man seated at Jesus' feet puts fear in the people of the town. We are, after all, accustomed to our demons. Despite our frustration and occasional acts of resistance, we accommodate ourselves to the ways they limit our own lives and crush the lives of others. However terrible our demons may appear when we look them in the face, their presence along the periphery of our lives feels normal. Maybe the demons kill, but we're often more comfortable with the frenetic forces that drive us here and there than we are with the radical new way of life that Jesus brings" (38, The Wisdom of Stability).
The frenetic forces that drive us here and there: ah, yes.
Those demons. Those vices, those neuroses, those addictions. I'm starting to recognize something familiar in myself.
When I have the chance, I'll write more about the specifics of my demons, which are really tied up in my use of technology. But I think this post is less about my vice and more about the necessity of resistance and ruthlessness in our spiritual lives.
What sin do we tolerate? What pretty little lies do we tell ourselves? And how much listening will we "suffer" until the fraudulence is exposed?
There is a radical new way of life that Jesus brings. It's wholeness in every sense of the word. It's shalom.
And for all that's attractive about this with-God, abundant life, it's also true that life as we've often known it - life driven by the frenetic forces - has a certain consolation to it. Familiarity makes sin safe. It can be incredibly hard to make a change, no matter how necessary that change may begin to seem to us.
Frequently, I fail the courage for that change. But I believe the Lord grants willingness to the willing. Grace.
This Lent, by grace and grace alone, I will step into the risk of resistance.
Grace is the first and final word in our lives of faith. But it doesn't exclude our participation, our involvement, our willingness. So this Lenten season, may grace stir in each of us willingness. May willingness give birth to resistance. May resistance become repentance, repentance become obedience.
Let's proclaim a fast.
And may we all be led into the everlasting light of shalom.