learning lent

Half-heartedly I quietly entered Lent with a weak promise to stop eating desserts. I didn’t share it with anyone and on the first day when my husband bought me cupcakes for breakfast I guiltily gobbled them down. Defeated before the very first mealtime passed by. My smallness feels so very big so much of the time.

Sweets have been my arch-nemesis, maybe since birth. Mom didn’t breast feed me and she felt it responsible for early childhood ailments, I am wondering now if this could count? Any way I can remove the blame from me, I am apt to try it.

For all my years, I have blithely ignored the practice of Lent. Hiding behind my denomination I have always pushed into some “Catholic” category. I didn’t grow up in a church with ashes on the head, or sacrificial worship. If there was, I was too enamored with myself to consider it. Approaching this Easter season, as I long for more of Him and less of me, it is becoming my daily battle cry. Looking for ways to approach boldly and to nestle in under the shadow of His great wings, I considered the Lenten season. I read multiple outlines of what it is, what it was, what it has become through years, denominations, and spiritual leaders clarifying requisites.

As I tried to understand even the name, Lent, I read it may have to do with an old English word for spring, lenten probably having to do with lengthen, as in the lengthening of days during the spring. The underlying idea of the event however is solemnly approaching Easter by way of prayer, self-denial—sacrificial worship even.

Despite my absurd start to the season, I confessed to my husband, sheepishly giving my weak promise again hoping accountability might play a role. Yet the more I considered my rationale I realized that this even seemed absurd. I want to want more of Him, less of me. It’s not about someone else keeping me in line. How do I initiate this desire, a willingness to kill self so that He might be more real, more fruitful in and through me?

Choosing sugar was going right to the heart of idol worship and self killing. I never imagined how hideous the Hyde to my Jekyll would be when undertaking this season of denial.

I don’t deny myself well.

Ever.

It is ugly and painful and Ann Voskamp’s reflection on it became so powerful: “Lent’s not about making anybody acceptable to a Savior—but about making everybody aware of why they need a Savior.” I often think I feel aware, but sacrificing sugar makes sharp reality. As in, it hurts.
I made brownies for my kids who are in no way celebrating Lent. I lick the spoon. I don’t eat a brownie, just the crumb that falls from my four-year-old’s napkin. I literally feel angry I can’t eat one, resentful when kids eat many. I want to be holy and graciously pray, God, I give this up for you. I rationalize spoon-licking, crumb-eating isn’t giving in.

What is this?

How do I get angry over sugar?

How do I feel jealous of my children eating it?

Afraid, I realize it’s the ugly heart beating beneath the shirt with brownie batter splatter.

It is Romans 7:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (I search for exclamation points here.)

I can stare in the mirror at the muffin top that flows over the jeans. I can confess I want to be healthier. I can say I am giving up sugar for Lent. But there is no change in my behavior, my attitude, my underlying resentment. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want IS WHAT I KEEP ON DOING.

As the lenten days pass, the lengthening days of Spring frustrate me. The days are so long when self is getting cut off. I am bleeding out I think. My body doesn’t know what to do without its desires met. I cry out all the more. More of You, less of me. It is an ugly, fleshy fight.

Seeking respite, I study again the restrictions, looking for an out even. I see that protestant churches cover a 46 day timeframe for lent, but it is a 40 day event. This is because Sundays are a break! I see a light in the dark. I can refrain from the fast on Sunday? And then Saint Thomas Aquinas is even more of a saint to me in the moment I read: “Aquinas also authorized the consumption of candy during Lent because ‘sugared spices’ were in his opinion digestive aids on par with medicine rather than food.” The one thing I am trying to cut out was authorized to be in!

So, if I eat the sugar, will I be content, healthy? Happy with my kids? The underlying heartbeat won’t let me out as I writhe. It could be sugar. It could be Diet Coke. But cutting to the depths does not reveal surface things, it’s below the surface. Cutting down to the heart I find Jesus speaking as He did in Mark 7 “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

I am defiled whether I am consuming the sugar or not. Heart ache.

There is anger. There is resentment. There is a black heart beneath my sugar addiction. The desire to do right is always overcome by what I keep on doing. Or is it?

I finished my Romans reading this morning. The Gospel is the long light of day that I long for in my dark recesses: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (I found the exclamation points where they really belong!) Thanks be to God. This season is celebrating the only rescue we have from long days, dark hearts, the evil I do not want to do.

Risen rescue is coming.

Thanks be to God.

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