My Lenten Dread

I always dread Lent. It’s for several reasons, really, but they all boil down to the fact that Lent tends to bring out the worst in me.For starters, modern day Pharisees love Lent. Of course, lots of good people love Lent, too, and for great reasons. But the Pharisees get some sort of weird high off of all the mortifications and special services prescribed to the liturgical season, and they like to parade around town intoxicated with their own cheap virtue. Then, and this is what makes my blood boil, they huddle together and look down their snooty noses at the Creasters (you know, the Christians who only show up at Christmas and Easter) for only giving up chocolate or carbohydrates or wine. “They’re dieting and calling it a Lenten fast,” someone always points out and then they all roll their eyes and laugh sardonically.

The mom in me wants to stamp my foot and wag my finger at them. “Who are you to judge? Mind your own business!” I’d like to scold. I then can’t help but look down my nose at all those Pharisees looking down their noses at the Creasters. I usually entertain notions of my superior moral standing for about 15 minutes before I realize I’m really no better than them. This frustrates me.

There’s also the fact that when it comes to fasting I have about as much self-restraint as Elvis did when faced with his favorite sandwich: a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich fried in butter. I read an entire article the other day about Elvis’s love of the sandwich. In the 70s there was a sandwich called “Fools Gold” at a restaurant in Denver, Colorado. It consisted of a buttered Italian loaf, peanut butter, banana, and a pound of bacon. It was meant to serve 8. On a whim one night, Elvis flew his entourage from Graceland to Denver just to satisfy his craving. He ate the entire sandwich on his own.

I understand this urge. Halfway through a fast some kind of animal instinct kicks in and I could devour an entire tub of cookie dough ice cream before I realized what I’d done.

It doesn’t matter what I give up for Lent, either. I could give up something I wasn’t particularly fond of, like celery, and without fail I’d find myself obsessing over the thought of grabbing a stalk and ripping through its leafy ribs with my teeth. That’s the power of denial for ya.

I’m terrible at fasting. For goodness sake, the Creasters are better at it than I am—every one of them.

It’s not just food that I have this problem with. In college I gave up watching the show Quantum Leap. The nerd in me thought Scott Bakula was so dreamy the way he leapt through time, correcting historical mistakes, and doing good everywhere he went. The show aired every day at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m. I never missed an episode; so when Lent rolled around I decided that the most appropriate thing I could do was to fast from Scott Bakula. I made it 3 weeks before I cracked.

One afternoon I couldn’t take it anymore. I waited for my roommates to go to class and then snuck upstairs to watch one show. Just one show. A few minutes into the program a storm rolled into town. The claps of thunder were so loud I could barely hear the sound coming from the television, but I pressed on until—and this is the honest truth—a bolt of lightening reached through the window and struck the television. Sparks flew and so did I out the door. For months I was convinced God smote the T.V. because I broke my Lenten fast.

You’d think after an episode like that I’d be more faithful to a Lenten fast. And yet here we are, 48 hours after Ash Wednesday and I’ve already fallen off the Lenten wagon…twice. Every Lent I’m forced to admit that I am a half-hearted, gluttonous and judgmental flake of a Christian.

I’ve read a lot of articles about Lent over the past week. There’s some great stuff out there. Perhaps I’ll take the time to post a list of some of my favorites. For now I’ll only say that every article I’ve read comes to the same point: during Lent we are reminded of our mortality and our great need for mercy and forgiveness. The observance of Lent necessarily brings to the surface the bitter truth of our sinfulness. As we wander into the wilderness of Lent we are confronted with our desperate need for a Savior.

Lent may be an uncomfortable time for me—I don’t like being reminded of my shortcomings and my brokenness—but then that’s just Lent doing its job. Only those things that are brought to the surface can be healed and transformed.

Author: Rebekah Durham

Rebekah Durham lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her three children.  She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has written for numerous publications. She is an avid reader and in particular an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy L. Sayers (in no certain order). She'd also blindly follow Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's famous spinster sleuth) anywhere she wanted to go.

19 thoughts on “My Lenten Dread”

  1. An awesome piece. I am bad at Lent as well! And the recognition of the fact is “just Lent doing its job” is wonderful – driving me to repentance and the transforming grace I need! Thank you, Rebekah and thank you for putting it so delightfully!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh goodness I love this…I’d need more self-control to make it through a season of lent…I’m dairy and gluten-free but it always gets put on the back burner during the holidays so at the beginning of the year I was about 21 days without either until the fateful Saturday that I caved…to Burger King chicken nuggets of all things!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent! We all have a vein of Pharisaical blood in us! Thanks to Jesus, we can be cleansed, as you said so well, “when it comes to the surface.” The process continues….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always look forward to hearing what your mom is giving up. There was one memorable year that completely changed my preconceived notions of preacher’s wives.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didnt come from a family that fasted. My first attempt was in college. 12 hour fasts broken by night vegetarian meal. And no Coke since I was one-can-a-day addict. I never went back to my Coke addiction and it’s been almost 30 years.
    Unfortunately, fasting didnt work out either. Not for me nor my husband. Then kids came along and it became that much harder to fast. Now I find that any attempt to fast leads to binging just a short while later. It always made me feel guilty especially at church when you’re surrounded by zealous fast-ers☹.

    Until I found Isaiah 58 and the kind of fast God wants. It seemed as if He was speaking to me. In a way, to fast by freeing the oppressed, by sheltering the homeless etc is easier because a lot of it is along my route, so to speak. But God isn’t asking for what is easily done on some days. He’s asking me for the fast that eases the burdens borne by others – on days when it seems I need more help than anyone!

    That’s the fast I’m trying to do this year. May I persevere till the end!

    Liked by 1 person

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