In the past, I took Lent to an extreme. Two years ago, my wife and I lived our daily lives off of two dollars a day. That experiment in simplicity filled me with a deeper appreciation for what I have, especially in regards to food.
One of the lasting effects of that Lent experience was the issue of eating meat. On two dollars a day, meat is basically impossible to afford. This meat-and-potatoes guy didn’t consume chicken, beef, pork, or seafood for 46 days – and I survived! Eventually, several months later, I followed through and began the gradual process of giving up meat permanently.
This conviction, born out of a deep longing to reflect God care for all creatures, has liberated me in many ways. For one thing, I no longer participate in a factory farm system which is more concerned about profits than respecting the natural functions that God gave to animals (chickens plucking the ground, pigs laying in the mud, cows grazing, etc.). Second, giving up meat is a spiritual discipline, one that connects me to the beauty of God’s world. When I see a squirrel dancing in a tree, I’m reminded of God’s own beauty. Lent changed my life in a wonderful way.
This year, my wife and I decided that it’s time to begin regulating our usage of TV. We chose not to give it up all together, but have committed to only watching certain shows after 8pm. If we are home all day on Saturday, then we must fill our time with something other than the telly. Such an experience has been beneficial in all sorts of ways. We are preparing for our first child to be born at the end of April, so this also functions as a rehearsal for parenting. We desire that our child would not be exposed to TV until she begins the process of language learning (some studies indicate that the pixilation, amongst other things, can actually stint brain development in the early years of childhood). So far, this has been good.
I chose to integrate a second discipline during this Lenten season, so I also gave up dessert foods. This story is not as successful. Over the weekend I forgot that I was fasting from junk-food and ate some “muddy buddies” at a party. At this point, I thought: God forgives a little slip up like this, I’m sure of it. Clearly, this discipline was vaguely on my mind and probably not helping me to focus on Christ as much as it is designed to do. But then, as I refused a cupcake that my wife brought home from a baby shower, it hit me: “Dang it! I ate a doughnut at work today!” This, my friends, is what we call: Lent, Fail.
One way to look at it is: I totally failed God. I’m obviously not that pious. I’m such a Lenten Lame-o. Responding like this is a symptom of guilt. Christians react to imperfection this way on a regular basis. We want to appease God when the whole time God is simply trying to tell us that God is pleased with us.
Another way to look at this situation is to learn that God is already pleased with us! Lent is not an empty ritual designed to induce guilt, but serves as a time when we create space in our lives to focus on God’s amazing love. Sometimes, in order to enter into a spiritual posture in which we are able to hear from God, we do well to starve ourselves from something that we take for granted or that acts as a subtle idol in our lives. But this is never because the Christian faith is supposed to be guilt-inducing – no! – instead, Lent opens us up to receive from God’s Spirit in a fresh way.
So, if you are like me and occasionally fail at Lent, perhaps your failure is exactly what God wants to use to remind you of the beauty of grace. Perhaps, when you eat that doughnut (unknowingly breaking your Lenten fast) you are actually setting yourself up for a gentle reminder of God’s ridiculous grace. With this sort of reframe, perhaps a “Lent, Fail” is no failure at all, but another way that our creative God enraptures us in the Divine love of the risen Christ.
This post is part of the Patheos Progressive Christian chanel’s dicussion on this question about Lent: What Are You Giving Up — or Taking On — this Lent?