Lent begins this week. What's your plan?
Sometimes our Lenten disciplines feel pretty random. We give up chocolate, or beer, or whatever — not because of any intrinsic value in them, but just because we feel like we should give something up. The apparent randomness can become an argument — sometimes from others, sometimes in our own minds — against keeping up the discipline. Does it really matter?
I'm all for well-chosen Lenten disciplines. But even apparently random disciplines have tremendous value for ourselves and our world, and we should hold fast to them.
Think of the pattern of Jesus' actions. The world had gone astray through sin. What did He do? He didn't simply stand outside the problem and tell people "you need to become more like me." That would have been true, and fair. But He gave a deeper response. He made reparation, in His own body, for the sins of others. Where Adam said, "No", Jesus said, "Yes." Where Adam failed in a garden (Eden), Jesus triumphed in a garden (Gethsemane). Where Adam failed at a tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), Jesus succeeded on a tree (the Cross). Jesus undid the sins of others. And He did it by counteracting them right at their entry point.
That's a pattern for our Lent.
The world, in our own day, has gone astray again. Secular society has made "my desires" the measure of everything. "Act on your desires and define yourself by your desires" has become the governing principle of our culture.
What should we do with this mis-measure of humanity?
We could stand outside the problem and criticize it. There is, to be sure, much to criticize! But the truth of our criticism often blinds us to the need for a deeper response.
A deeper response would be to follow Jesus: to take that sin to the Cross in our own lives, right where it takes root. That means not letting our desires master us or define us.
"I want a cheeseburger." But it's a Friday in Lent, so grilled cheese will have to do. "I want some chocolate." But I gave up chocolate for Lent, so it will have to wait. "I want to watch TV. I want to watch Netflix. I want to check Facebook." No, no, no.
But every "No" during Lent — just as every "No" in Christian life — is rooted in a deeper "Yes." And the "yes" is this: that our identity is more than our desires.
We are, first and foremost, beloved sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. Some of our desires are consistent with that identity; we can act on those. Some of our desires aren't consistent with that identity, and we're called not to act on those. All of those desires are part of us. None of them defines us.
Lenten discipline — no matter how well chosen or how seemingly random — counteracts one of the central sins of our world at its very entry point. It strengthens the ability to govern our desires according to a deeper principle. That makes a contribution to the central task of Christian life: to govern our desires according to our identity in Christ.