(Liz wrote this post today for a Christian affinity group at her work to mark the first day of Lent. I asked if I could post it here. She said yes because she’s my wife and she loves me. Also, I want to get her writing more.)
It’s Lent. Today is Day One.* Today many Christians enter the fast.
Today is the day some of you will abstain from wine after work. Or from added sugar. Maybe you’ve signed off Instagram or Facebook for 40 days. A pledge to avoid Starbucks. No meat on Fridays. There are a range of things believers (and non-believers) give up for Lent. Perhaps you are affirmatively engaging in generosity or structured devotionals or worship.
I’m doing the Daniel Plan** with a handful of close friends. (The Rick Warren version, not the raw vegetables and seeds version, though the latter does seem to better track the book of Daniel. Not that the author of Daniel worried about downstream implications for future fasts and proper adherence to fasting orthodoxy.) Sometimes we get too caught up in the details. Trying to perfect our fasting approach.
Earlier this week my group of friends and I texted each other our planned exceptions to the Plan. Some want to keep their half & half in morning coffee. Others are going even stricter than the Plan requires. Being the lawyer that I am, I found myself scanning the Plan for loopholes.
Who truly cares what’s included or not included in our Lenten fasts? What does fasting do to “help” God? What pleasure might He derive from it?
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” -Hosea 6:6
I’d argue that God gains nothing if I avoid certain foods. Except…
…what He gains (and I gain) is my surrendered heart. When I take my own desires and goals and submit them to God – for anything at all – my future, my family’s future, my health, my career – any desires or goals I’d articulate and those I won’t even admit to myself. When I’m able to say “Lord, I surrender ALL of this to You. Each and every word, thought and deed, every motive, hope and desire, I surrender to You. Please accept my sacrifice.” This is what pleases God, because then He has us where He’s designed us to be. Turned towards Him. Praying in earnest to withstand temptation. Accepting His great abundance in exchange for our sacrifice.
Any spiritual discipline is, at its heart, for us. To draw us close to God, our father.
So I might screw this up. I might have an intense deadline, or be on an international flight, and cave to gluten, dairy or sugar. I know myself, and I’ll feel guilt and failure. I feel performance anxiety on a daily basis, and I bet a large percentage of you do too.
But this is why I’m moved to tears each time I hear the line from the Hillsong United song, “So Will I.”
“And as You speak, a hundred billion failures disappear.”
The great relief, the great grace, the great rescue.
We screw up, we fail, and He just says a word, and our failures disappear. Because that’s Who He is.
“Only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Lent. We surrender our hearts. We try to offer a sacrifice to our God. To recognize our reliance on Him. To mark our surrender. And we can’t do it perfectly. We can never perfectly surrender. But we can choose to try.
Because You Lord. You were perfect. And “You gladly chose surrender.”
So will I.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15a
*For our Orthodox brothers and sisters, acknowledging that the Great Lent begins for you on March 11!
** Daniel was an Israelite whom King Nebuchadnezzar wanted to train to serve in his palace. The king mandated that his trainees were to eat the same foods that he ate. But Daniel refused the king’s lavish food and asked if he and his friends could eat vegetables instead. After just 10 days, he and his companions looked so much healthier than the rest of the king’s trainees that they all turned vegan. (NB: I have no plans to turn vegan.)