Giving up the Right Stuff for Lent

The season of Lent begins next Wednesday with our Ash Wednesday services. During Lent Christians often give up certain foods as part of their Lenten fast. Although there is nothing wrong with giving up various foods, I want to suggest that there are two much more important fundamental things to give up.

First, we need to give up—with God’s help—our all too narrow understandings of who God is. For many people, God is simply an amalgamation of all their experience of authority figures projected onto God. Consequently, if they had demanding, stern, and punishing authority figures, God is simply all that at the divine level. Only scripture can help us discover the true God. The Sunday readings during lent, culminating in Holy Week, invite us to discover a God whose love for us is beyond our wildest dreams. This lent we will discover that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world (not just a handful of people) might be saved through him (John 3: 17).” We will find out that Jesus wants to give us a drink of “living water” that will give us more life than we ever dreamed (John 4:14). We will discover that Jesus has power over death and that no situation is hopeless (John 11: 1—44). Finally, during Holy Week we will hear Jesus say that when he is lifted up on the cross, his death “will draw all people” to himself (cf John 12:32). What we will discover is that God’s love for us is relentless and will never stop seeking all human beings. What we will discover at the end of the day is that God will not be satisfied until all humanity is embraced in the loving arms of God. Everyone saved in the end? No one going to hell? In a 2010 sermon at St. Paul’s in London, Desmond Tutu put it this way: “There is nothing that must be left outside…Jesus did not say, ‘I, if I be lifted up, I will draw some.’ Jesus said, ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all, all, all, all.’” This lent, are we willing to give up our parochial notions of God and welcome God's boundless love into our lives?

The second thing we need to give up during lent is our desire to be more than human. God’s gift to us on Ash Wednesday is the reminder that we are called to be human: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Give up your need to be flawless. Give up your desire to be perfect. Give up using lent to shore up all your weaknesses. Just be human and utterly dependent on God. That is what we were created to be. Of course, our willingness to settle for being human is connected to our awareness of God’s amazing love. When we discover that God’s steadfast love for us never ends, we can give up trying to impress God. Living in God’s love frees us to claim our humanity and embrace the humanity of others. We are more patient with others shortcomings because we know this is part of being human. We also discover that it is precisely through the embrace of our humanity that God’s powerful love is made manifest.

So let us give up our puny notions of God this lent, and let us give up our misguided notions about ourselves. God really is this good; we really are this human; and this really is what lent is all about.