Dear Christ, To Hell With Lenten Discipline

Fisher of Men
March 19, 2012
For the Farmer, and for Me: 1913
March 23, 2012


I’d grant you peace and prosperity—just like your favorite son Paul—but frankly, that seems daft coming from me. I mean, truly, it ought to be the other way around. In due course, of course.

Really, the reason I’m writing has everything to do with this Lent business. Now I understand full well that we human beings have affected a lot since you ascended, and in that way, we can hardly blame you for moments of religious confusion. It’s no wonder so many distance themselves from the gargantuan institutions we call “church”. What is it my pastor says? “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Amen to that.

But just the same, I cling to my idealism, and think there must be a kernel of honest truth to the rituals we’ve put in place, and therefore pore over them again and again. Take, for example, Lenten resolutions.

When I was part of Mother Church, they were a given: sacrifices made for 40 days as we traveled on the journey of Lent. They were designed, it seemed, to give us each a sense of suffering, lack, and deprivation—much like your 40 days in the desert. And, also much like that horrific time, we would be tempted to give up those resolutions because we just couldn’t be without whatever it was we gave up. It was a test of strength, it seemed—perhaps even a test of faith.

As I grew older, the idea of Lenten resolutions became more fluid. Giving up chocolate here and soda there seemed petty and without much meaning. The question became: What can I give up of true substance? How can I really experience lack? Self-punishment ensued, recalling some of the grossly dramatic flagellations of the early church.

These days, however, even that crusade has fallen to tatters—like the robes you wore to the Cross. Or perhaps time and age have ripped it apart. Regardless, the idea of forcibly giving something up for Lent seems foolish. Too often, we’re inclined to give something up not because we will experience loss or lack, but because it’s a good opportunity to give up something we shouldn’t have anyway—things that are truly bad for us. What sort of discipline is that?

So I’ve been thinking on it, Jesus, and I think I’ve taken yet another step forward in this thing called faith—at least so far as Lent is concerned. Many years have gone by that resolutions have fallen to dust. I’ve failed, and not even lightly. You were there to watch them unfold, and there was hardly any way to hide it. I failed to sustain my lack. The discipline of spirit was absent, or corrupt, or both.

But maybe that’s the point? I can challenge myself to give up eating, to give up sex, to give up water—anything that makes me substantively human. And while to some that might be a noble goal, the truth is that it’s definitely impossible to do it on my own. That’s where the revelation hits.

We’ve long been told we’re sinful, and there’s really nothing we can do about it. So what does a Lenten resolution tell us? Keeping the resolution or not doesn’t tell us much of anything. Over the years, we will succeed in keeping some, and fail in keeping others. Eventually, we will see patterns form and know that failure is just part of the equation. Is that something to be defeated by? No. Because the whole point of Lent is not for me to say “I let go of ________,” but rather, “I let go.” That is to say, “I can’t do this on my own. I never could, and I never will.” It is our way of walking the road to the cross and saying, to you and to God: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

And do you know what is so damned wonderful about it all? Of course you do, but I’ll say it anyway. Lent can be torturous; it can be hellish; it can be strengthening; it can be humbling. At the end of that road, the celebration is the same: we are all amazed by your sacrifice, love, and persistent forgiveness. It becomes clear, then: In you, all things are reconciled and made right. Not through us, however hard we try, however much we strain.

It is as the creed of Alcoholics Anonymous tell us: Let go, and let God. May that be my resolution this Lent, and throughout the entire year.

Thank you for listening to me, Lord; I know there are many to listen to. And keep me in mind on the other side of those clouds, ok? Not every day is filled with sunshine down here.

I love you,


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