Lent is such a strange time of year. I can remember having discussions about why as a non-Catholic there was no reason to pay any attention to Lent. There does not seem to be a great deal of focus in most Baptist churches about this season, but you could easily say the same thing about Sabbath, confession, or silence and each of those have held a important place in my relationship with Christ. Primarily, I've understood Lent as a time where you give up chocolate or sodas to identify with Christ's suffering…and maybe that's why I've never quite understood it. It's like saying, "I know what you're going through Jesus-I haven't been to Starbucks in two weeks!" Giving up one simple thing for 40 days sounded a bit empty and like a fancy case of legalism and more rules.
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, he says "Let him who cannot be alone, beware of being in community. Let him who is not in community, beware of being alone." Bonhoeffer's point is that our normal habits must be put aside so that we can develop the life of a disciple of Jesus. Community and solitude both have their benefits, but they also have their pitfalls, and without a balance we are find ourselves lost in despair. I can hear the echoes of this sentiment in the Lenten period – the point is not to give up something simply to give it up; no, there is something much greater going on.
This is the period of renewing our minds from Romans 12:1-2 – by putting aside habits and emptying ourselves, we are creating space for God to fill us up. The point is not what you give up, but how to create more space for God to transform us. This leads down a road of 1,000 more questions – is giving up Facebook going to help me stay connected to a community of Christ or cause me to retreat further into my introverted shell? How does giving up soda open me up to God? Is staying away from fast food going to allow me to focus on a new aspect of my relationship to Christ?
Lent is like any other discipline in that it is a means to an end, not the end itself. Start with the end in mind. For me, I have realized that I can become so obsessed with reading about Scripture that I am often drawn away from Scripture. I have stacks of books about church, God, Jesus, disciplines, how to study the bible, etc, and often I spend more time reading those than I do the actual word of God. So I have decided to put aside that non-essential reading for the next 40 days. It will mean my Kindle goes dark for a while. It will mean that I won't get around to reading Crazy Love like I had wanted to. But the point isn't to prove to Jesus that I can sacrifice books – the point is to give up one thing to get something else. I want these next 40 days that are leading up to Easter to be an intense time of opening the Scriptures and letting God speak to me through them, rather than an interpreter like Donald Miller, Rob Bell, or even Bonhoeffer.
Where could you create more space in your life for God to move? What would you have to sell in order to buy the treasure hidden in a field?