I recently read this Bernard Bailey quote on a whimsical little sign hanging in a store window: “When they discover the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to discover they are not it.”
I laughed because I knew that by “a lot of people” he meant me. It’s been the recurring lesson of my Lenten season.
True confession: I’ve never really done Lent before. I didn’t grow up with the tradition, wasn’t raised in the brand of Christianity that practiced it. During the past six years, however, thanks to our current church, that’s changed. I’ve come to appreciate it. I’ve listened to friends and acquaintances talk about their attempts to give up wine or chocolate or Facebook or some other vice that’s squeezed a little too tight and have admired their discipline and conviction. But for no particular reason (except perhaps my own laziness), I’ve never chosen to join them.
So this year, I decided to give it a go. Uninspired by the typical dietary restrictions, I decided to do a weekly fast. Nothing crazy, just breakfast and lunch, about 12 hours in the middle of my week. While I’ve fasted before (sporadically and always for specific reasons), I’ve more so enjoyed making it part of my normal routine. I’ve found it enlightening, refreshing. Even now, as I sit here typing away my last couple of hours, I’m strangely sad to see it end. Not because I love being hungry, but because my brief little exercise in self denial has taught me something about myself that I needed to be reminded of.
It’s not very often I deprive myself of the things I want. Anything, really. I’m alarmed, in fact, by how accustomed I’ve become to filling my needs when and how I feel like it. How easy it is to open my laptop or my pantry or my wallet and get the exact thing I want at the exact moment I want it. I’m quick to over indulge, protective of what’s “mine” and am ridiculously, pathetically awful at dying to myself.
But my weaknesses have reminded me of God’s goodness and grace. His patience, his tenderness, his empathy. The needs only he can meet, the longings which aren’t meant to be fulfilled, the necessity of dependence, the vulnerability of limitations, the crystallizing that happens by yearning for that which lasts but is not yet here. Most of all, though, it’s reminded me of my own brokenness, my utter inability to do life on my own and my desperate need for a Savior.
My friend Adele says, “Our small denials of the self show us just how little taste we actually have for sacrifice. . . .” Which ultimately reminds me of how great his was. Fitting, I suppose, considering this is Holy Week, the culmination of why we practice Lent in the first place.