I was really good at Lent as a kid. I took it super serious. So serious, that once, as a kid, I gave up chocolate and accidentally ordered a chocolate Frosty at Wendy’s. Through extreme amounts of guilt-ridden tears I begged my mom for a Sprite so as to save my soul as she tried to convince me that God would still love me if I ate it. I didn’t believe her. In the end, the Frosty was tossed and I sipped my Sprite’s way to salvation.
That little Lenten rockstar of my youth somehow disappeared in my adult years and Lent started to look more like a 40 day diet challenge. But then, a handful of years ago I heard a woman stand up at church and share that in that year God had chosen what she would give up…and it was a loved one. That moment took my breath away. For the first time, Lent made sense. A time for grieving, for giving up, a season of release. 40 days of intentional deep heart work.
Last year, as Lent approached and I began to consider my fasting options something deep in me nudged me to give up my marriage. I tried hard to silence that nudging, but it kept surfacing. So I listened and responded. And it simply looked like this: I committed to NOT giving up anything else.
I didn’t tell anyone. Because I was petrified both of what people would think AND petrified of what might lie within me if I honestly gave it up.
I did not give up on it. I gave it up. It wasn’t about quitting. It was about surrendering.
The first week or two of Lent, I thought I was just weird. Who gives up their marriage for lent? What did that say about me? …Was I seriously doing this? Did I just not want to give up chocolate?
But slowly, I started to get into the quiet.
One day at a time.
And one specific night I remember just pacing my kitchen floor. I walked circles. I swayed side to side. I stood still, my arms dangling in full surrender by my side. And it was the first time my home had ever had a quiet to it. At least a quiet I could feel. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel so alone. I knew that despite how confused and hard it had gotten that I finally knew I was standing on holy solid ground; the brink of change.
My marriage had trouble from our first week of dating and I remember saying we had met on a Good Friday (literally, our first date was on Good Friday) but that God would take us to Easter Sunday. And during the years of struggle and pain, I kept telling myself that Easter Sunday would come.
I think most want to read this and hear that at the end of Lent, I decided to stay in my marriage. That God did his miraculous work and saved my marriage. That my faith, as small as a mustard seed, was planted and grew with Jack in the Beanstock intensity and tossed my mountain of despair into the depths of the sea.
That would have been really awesome. And doable. I believe in a God that big.
But I also believe in a really creative God.
And I believe in a God who ordained complete free will.
And so, I didn’t stay in my marriage.
But he did do a huge miracle in me.
And he continues to do a really big miracle.
And that is, he continues to save my soul.
Thing is, resurrection Sunday comes regardless of the death and decay in us. Because we have a God who is bigger than our death.
And each year I think it’s a real good practice to pause a moment and identify the death, that which is broken, hurting, needs restoration, needs a resurrection. And we give it up. There’s no clear cut way on HOW to give it up. You just do. In your own way.
Fat Tuesday will come and go. We use it as every excuse to binge eat on Ho Hos and Oreos. And then Ash Wednesday comes and it is one of my favorites. I love the ashy stuff of the Catholic faith, everyone walking around like a BOSS with dirt on their face. Every year I feel this deep sense of belonging to humanity when I witness dirt on faces – from dust we all are and to dusk we all shall return.
We start lent by acknowledging our feebleness and our inevitable fate. That is, we are a vapor. And that to ever have a chance to exist is a gift.
It’s coming. Lent is fast approaching. And so, what do you need to give up? What’s that thing you keep pushing down inside your soul because it’s scary, it’s dark, and to face it feels impossible.
Don’t be scared of it. It can’t be scarier than death, can it? Or I mean, maybe it can? Maybe death actually seems easier or more possible than life where you can’t imagine it. But if death has no grip on us, if Jesus shows us that on the other side of death is life, then I think we can stare death in the face and be alright – even a little bit excited. There’s a quote I love that reads: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to bloom.
Lent isn’t about mastery. Lent is about our frailty, our brokenness. Lent is simply to say, I am in need. Lent is about bringing all of ourselves to the table. I love that one of the last things Jesus did with us before his death was communion. He sat at a table and everything was exposed – the liers, the betrayers, the doubters. I always thought that was Jesus’ way of calling “bull shit” before he died. But I wonder if maybe it was his way of telling us to sit down at the table with him and let it all hang out.
We must die before we rise. But sometimes before anything can die, we need to show up and take a seat at the table. So that we can eat and drink and remember.
Jesus was like, let’s talk about who YOU are. Your junk. Your icky. Your hurting. Your fears. Your insecurities. Your aches. Let’s talk about it. Broken and spilled out, Jesus invites us to break all over the table.
And then he does the most beautiful of things, he says, “NOW eat. drink. AND DO THIS in MEMORY of me.” It was like he was saying, IF YOU EVER DOUBT that I love you, ALL OF YOU, remember this moment RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. You can betray, you can lie and deny, you can run, you can conger ups schemes to make this world seem worth it, in fact you’ll do it by selling me, and you can turn from me, and you can doubt me, but nothing, NOTHING, can separate you from my love - my transforming love that brings a new kind of seeing yourself, a new life.
We call this grace.
Lent starts next week, but today will you join me at the table, will you break some bread with me. Let’s use the next few days to pull all of our story, all of our heart onto the table. Come all who are burdened, he says, and I will give you rest.
Come with me, yes?
Lent with me, no?