Passing into Lent again, our thoughts of course turn to whatever it is we’re going to ‘give up’ this season. This ancient practice, which really began as a fasting exercise, now extends to include the trimming of anything in our lives we have become attached to in an ‘icky’ way. It could be almost anything; coffee, Netflix, road rage, alcohol, social media, or watching catatonic reruns of The Big Bang Theory. (I don’t even like that show, why have I seen it so many times?…)
For Americans practicing Lent, the rule seems to be, If it makes us happier, and skinnier, so much the better. I actually applaud any kind of sensory censorship this time of year. Any time human beings do this, they draw closer to God, often whether they realize it or not.
A couple of years ago I was ruminating on a personal type of fast for Lent, and God seemed to nudge me to give up self-loathing. Yes, I am a self-loathing person. I beat myself up, constantly, about almost anything—a botched conversation, an inner sigh at not quite measuring up in life, even the wrong shirt worn for the wrong occasion. We are our own worst critics, as the saying goes.
Copyright: Marek Uliasz / 123RF
Yet giving up self-loathing seemed kind of counterintuitive for Lent. Isn’t at least part of the palette of Lent to realize one’s own mortality and box the old self around the ears a bit? Yes and no. The exercises of Lent are meant to draw us closer to God in contemplation, so anything that’s a barrier to that process is fair game. Yet, I knew that avoiding self-bullying could not be achieved by the opposite—waking up every morning like Stuart Smalley, gazing at my mug in the mirror and reminding that image how special, loved, and handsome he is.
No, not for me. The goal then, was just to stop it. Anytime I felt myself ganging up on myself, I just stopped. I didn’t insert even a lame enthusiasm, or a gentle You’re ok man. None of that. I just stopped doing it when I felt it start.
And, I felt better. Happier isn’t quite the right word. But, self-hatred is really just a graphic form of self-interest anyway, so halting the self-talk just made me a more rounded, generally aware person. Any time I felt the naval-gazing begin, I just quit it.
It was liberating. Not because I instantly felt better about myself and my persona, but suddenly there was room and space for God to move around more easily in my life. So much of our world is process-driven, and during that particular Lenten season, it was all about instant action, baby. Our society now blessedly accepts psychotherapy, counseling, self-awareness, and even regular ol’ wellness. We are all the better for it, but it takes time. We have to name our dysfunctions, and slowly defang them with conversations, self-inventory, and sometimes years of process.
Even our lives and careers are a slow grind. We bang about with our friends and families, trying to get to the next milestone, only to find another new set of goals in the foggy distance. We churn, we pedal, we improve. My son and, I assume, most young boys have a term for playing hours of video games not because it’s fun, but in order to rack up points and equipment and level up—grinding.
I haven’t had the heart to tell him that’s what being a grown-up is like on most days.
To be fair, much of the spiritual life is like that—a process. And it’s not always fun. True things of meaning are seldom quick and easy.
Yet, there are moments of direct action in the process. Lent is one of those seasons. Find the thing, or things (there are always more than one) that clog the pipes of your spiritual life, and pour some cosmic Drano down there. Lent is a season of immediacy, even as it guides us into lifelong spiritual practice. It may be something about the hard stop of 40 days that somehow makes it easier for human beings to alter course so quickly.
How many encounters in the ministry of Jesus were experiences of immediacy? Calling a handful of fishermen on the beach, who literally and figuratively dropped everything in that moment to follow him. The woman who fights through a crowd and touches Jesus and is instantly healed. The criminal hanging next to Christ on his cross, who is welcomed in, and that very day tastes paradise with God himself.
Our lives and societies are built on process. Our spiritual travels down the Way of Jesus are lifelong, but may Lent remind us of our now-relationship with an immediate God in an immediate season.
Kevin has been the Worship Director at The River since January of 2019. He brings 25 years of bandleading / worship leading experience to the role. Kevin served as a Pastor of Creative Arts for many years, and has experience in filmmaking, writing, and mumbling.
Kevin studied English, Creative Writing, and Screenwriting at UCLA, and is passionate about storytelling, liturgy, instrumental surf music, and college football. He lives in San Jose with his wife and two sons, and can be found at local record stores digging for vinyl, or jogging slower than everyone else on the Los Gatos Creek Trail.