I can remember the first time I decided to practice Lent. I was working at Focus on the Family Canada, and our whole department agreed to participate. I didn’t want to feel left out so I got on the band wagon and we all picked our vice.
I chose CHOCOLATE, and it was the first thing that came to my mind.
I am not sure I understood what I was doing.
It was more of a Let’s all do this together and see if I can stay away from having a piece of chocolate every single day, not to mention chocolate cake, brownies, ice cream and more.
I remember finishing and not feeling any different.
What did I actually accomplish by abstaining?
Because my heart engaged for the wrong reasons.
It wasn’t about taking something away to embrace a more intimate relationship with Jesus; it was proving I could actually do it!
Now I am sure God didn’t hold it as a sin against me, but I missed the point of the exercise by a long shot. I didn’t become a noticer, an observer or reflective, I was just a on the side participant.
The last several years as I have practiced Lent my heart has grown bigger. This year, in particular, my soul has enlarged more than ever, and I think I finally am beginning to get the point. As I have traveled the past 40 days on the journey crossward of Jesus life, the windows of my soul have opened up. I’ve noticed things I didn’t grasp in the gospels before.
I realize the depth of my own sinfulness.
It isn’t a condemnation realization, it is more of a how much I really need Jesus MORE every moment of my life!
To do otherwise would create a separation from what God desires for my life.
In my pilgrimage, this is what I have discovered…
There is no Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in the book of John.
WHAT? How did I not see that before?
It is nearly embarrassing after loving Jesus for decades and reading the Bible. My daughter-in-love Julie encouraged me when I confessed this to her. She told me we tend to look at the harmony of the four gospels and see them as one instead of individual books. Bless her for trying to make me feel better. I am not sure it worked. Note to self: If I am going to be a Bible teacher and writer, I need to be a better student!
When I scrambled over to read in the book of Mark Jesus prayer to God in the garden, I saw something I hadn’t clued into before. Alicia Britt Chole in her brilliant book 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger a Different Kind of Fast, helped me to see this in a new way.
Jesus asked God three times if there was another way for him to accomplish the mission. I learned it isn’t about being unwilling it is about being obedient. Jesus surrendered his desire to do it another way, and that’s what obedience is. God doesn’t hold it as sin for our unwillingness but whether we will obey or not. GRACE pure grace.
Lastly, as I traveled with Jesus to the cross, I realized how complacent I could be at times and take for granted the sacrifice God made for me. However, this year because I chose to engage, be a noticer, observer, and reflector and this is what happened to me…
I genuinely grieved as Jesus rode on the donkey into Jerusalem knowing what was to come and how people can turn on you at any moment.
I agonized with Jesus in the garden and empathized for what he had to do and how his own friends couldn’t watch and pray with him. Where would I be in the garden? Asleep?
I wept and wrestled with Peter’s denial in the early hours of the morning as he was asked three times did he know Jesus. I cried because I wondered if I would do the same.
So why is this year different for me?
My heart has softened because I see my own terrible brokenness in a new light and the only one that can help me is Jesus. The cross is the pathway to being forgiven, and the resurrection is the power that lives in me because of the cross. This is the promise:
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 1:19,20
Ironically, today is Good Friday and my birthday. Somehow the mingling of my birth and the remembering of Jesus sacrifice moves me profoundly. It causes me to be grateful on a whole new level.
And by the way, I gave up chocolate and desserts. But it’s different this time. And I am grateful God is so patient with me after all these years.