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.