Why give something up during Lent? Why pry our hands loose of one thing...meat, alcohol, television, eating out, or any number of things we count as a sacrifice to avoid? Do I hope to show solidarity in the suffering of Christ? Do I hope to realize how small, insignificant I am...how little control I really exert on my world?
Is it just a tradition, a pattern to follow annually? Will sacrifice make Easter more joyful, more real?
I don't know how anyone else would answer these questions, but I have given them a lot of thought recently. I think seasons of mindful "giving up" are required to help us enter in to the presence of God. I define the presence of God as Perfect Love. One of my main problems is that my own presence is so ridiculously huge. I dwell in my own thoughts, desires, dreams, passions, regrets, excitements, and plans all day long. And I believe that they are very important, most important! Sometimes I like to invite God into my presence. On my terms, of course.
But how backwards that is. I must grasp that at the center of my being, in the core of my mind, heart, soul- whatever is the basic element of my humanity- is the presence of God. The source of life. I am slowly learning to push away my own presence and listen to the quiet source of life within me. The quiet whisper of Love, that promises to fulfill every need I currently have or could ever imagine.
I don't usually believe Love can give me all I need, so I try desperately to round up fulfillment in achievements, praise, the adoration of those around me. I think my successes will make me significant. Maybe to the same degree that my failures make me miserably unworthy! But the human attempts to echo Perfect Love fall flat, reveal themselves to be cheap imitations, leave me resentful, angry, greedy, sad.
The whisper of Love calls me to enter into a sea of paradox. It tells me to give up trying to force others to give me what I need and just soak in the Love living inside of me. Love offers me rest in insignificance and promises to lift me up. Love says that emptiness, letting go of all I struggle to maintain for myself, allows me to be filled. Love reminds me that my wounds are the place of strength, sacrifice leads to gain, death leads to life. Love offers me a consistent identity, removed from all my efforts, successes, and failures.
By setting aside my compulsions, habits, the daily things I use for a high (a hit of praise, like a drug, gives me a fleeting moment of happiness), by setting aside something I usually cling to or take for granted as something I deserve (like alcohol or television), by setting aside the enormous, overpowering shadow of SELF maybe, just maybe, I can better hear the small still voice of Love inside of me. Maybe I can claim my identity as "the one who is Loved."
Then the task is to actually believe the voice. To spend enough time listening, to let go of self and cling to God enough times, to allow myself to fully know that Love doesn't end and Love doesn't fail and Love is enough.
Only then will I be able to give love to others. During Lent I watch Jesus live a life of unity with the Perfect Love. I see him believe Love is enough to the point of giving his life for it. I listen to him calling me to do the same. It's not always clear...my big old SELF gets in the way so often, it blocks my ears, it thinks it can find life for itself. But every time I taste Love, it leaves me hungry for more. I'm coming back more and more often. I'm learning. I'm leaving Lent, but I want to keep learning.
Excerpts from 1 John 4:
...love comes from God...God is love. God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. We love because he first loved us.
From 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.