This post is an annual repost that seeks to help people from non-liturgical traditions (like mine) understand and be blessed by the wonderful season of Lent which begins this Wednesday. Lent is also a great time to begin practicing spiritual disciplines as we’ve talked about here, here, here, and here.
This past Sunday I preached about addictions – idols really; those things we allow into our lives believing that they offer life, but ultimately do not. The key text was Isaiah 44. In the text, people take inanimate, lifeless objects, like wood, and fashion them into gods to be worshipped.
Times haven’t changed.
People still do this. We make things – money, food, sex, accomplishment, a particular political philosophy, the words of a radio or television personality or cable news station, whatever – our gods. We chuckle at the idea of folks worshipping a piece of wood, but it’s not as funny when we think about the men, women and marriages that have been ruined by people worshipping pornography or sexual immorality.
At any rate, all this talk of addictions and idols reminded me of the importance of the Christian calendar, in general, and our present season of Lent in particular. Lent, as you may know, is the 40-day period before Easter. In short, it is designed to help believers share in Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice – at least that’s the most popularized aspect of the season.
At a deeper level, we might want to consider the fact that since we are all idolaters – looking to other things give us life – Lent is perhaps our one chance, our one excuse every year to give ourselves permission to melt our golden calves. Lent is the perfect chance to try giving something up, something that has come to master us.
What I mean is simple: Oftentimes our false gods and idols seem so overwhelming that we surrender the fight thinking that nothing can be done. This is made easier by the fact that we generally enjoy idol worship. If we didn’t we never would have begun our idol worship in the first place. When we think about giving up our addictions they pain and sacrifice just seems to much.
But Lent sounds like a suggestion. It’s just 40 days. Spring training is longer, for goodness sake. If your god is shopping or over-eating or over-spending or terse, course language then giving it up for 40 days seems like something you can do.
Lent is subversive this way. For the last 7 years I’ve participated in Lent, setting aside some crutch I’d come to depend on too deeply. Each year I’ve learned the same thing: I can live without it! In years past I’ve set aside certain language, red meat and few others things that I’m too embarrassed to mention. And every time I’ve learned that those things don’t give me life and never could. They were blocks of wood. I learned that not only did I not enjoy them all that much, they were harming me in ways I never noticed or considered. What’s more, for each idol I’ve relinquished, I’ve never returned to using them like I did before. Lent provided me an excuse to try – without feeling like I was trying to climb a spiritual Mount Everest – and ultimately allowed me to loose idols and addictions and be free.
So here’s my encouragement to you. If like me, you’re from a non-liturgical tradition that thinks Lent is strange or foreign, just give it a try. This is how we learn; we try things. Pick up the idol that is eating at you and say, “Until Jesus is raised (Easter), I’m leaving you in darkness.” My bet is that by doing so, you will come to see the light.