Once upon a time, a newly pregnant Sharon gave up soda for Lent. It seemed like a pretty easy thing to do, since I wasn’t supposed to have caffeine anyway. One morning I was having a test that required fasting and by the end of the appointment I felt absolutely terrible. I was planning on heading to work from that appointment and I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it! Willis suggested that I needed to eat something but everything sounded nauseating to me.
Then, as we pulled away from the doctor’s office, there on the horizon appeared a Chick Fil A. I was emotional and pregnant so you will have to take my word for it when I tell you that I saw beams of light from Heaven shine down upon that seasonally adorned topiary Cow.
I still didn’t want to eat anything, but I felt in my soul at this moment that a fountain Coke would fix everything. So we went through the drive through, just in time to order breakfast with a medium Coke. I started with the soda and immediately felt the color returning to my face. I found my appetite, and ate the meal, and showed up at work only about 20 minutes later than I had meant to.
Later in the day I told Willis that breakfast had totally had a healing effect on me, but that I felt bad about the soda. He said “I wouldn’t worry about it – I’m sure God doesn’t.” and though I laughed about it at the time, I still think about that every time Lent rolls around and its time to consider cutting something out.
Up to that point, Lent was about looking for some tangible item or a specific experience I was going to forgo for a few weeks. Candy, soda, wine, cursing, extra shopping, etc. And while there was absolutely a discipline involved in removing those temptations from my life for a period of time, they were things that I really needed to curb anyway and I always ran straight back to them triumphantly after Easter. (Maybe even consuming/exercising them at a rate that implied making up for lost time.)
It got me wondering if I should be thinking about observing Lent in a different way.
Temptation is often associated with luxuries, or frivolities – things that we enjoy but don’t really need at all. Things that are wasteful, or even harmful. But there are things about the way I think and feel – things that I don’t enjoy at all – that I am very much tempted by, even though they are detrimental to my mental and physical health. I am tempted constantly to worry, to complain, to assume the worst, to be quick to anger. I am tempted to comment on that post I should really just scroll past.
But I am also tempted by things that seem heroic and bold and cause me to bite off more than I can chew; I overcommit my time and then berate myself for not being able to live up to my own expectations. And since we live in a world that seems to value constant production and motion, this alluring habit is as easy to fault as it is impossible to resist.
So…why not try give up some of those temptations instead? You may think that is a cop-out. You may feel that if you aren’t actually suffering for want of something you wont be able to walk the journey with Jesus in these 40 days. And truly, saying no to something you want and taking that moment to instead to contemplate the Savior and His incredible love and sacrifice is a holy thing.
But I assure you – it is harder to cut out the temptations of your brain than you might think. It isn’t even always possible.
But I have found that when I spend 40 days actively cutting myself off from the path of least resistance – the path that allows me to assume the worst and dwell in fear – I end up on the other side not wanting to resume my habits. I usually want to keep going. I want to keep striving for the best and most loving life I can on this side of Heaven. And though it may not exactly be a sacrifice to give up this rituals of pride and doubt – it is a discipline of love to set them aside.
And while I know I will fall short of my goals in these weeks, I might just find that for even having attempted them, on Easter morning I love a little bit more like Jesus than I did on Ash Wednesday.