by Blaine Beyer
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
- Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent, Book of Common Prayer
Looking back at my earlier years in the Church, the only thing I ever associated with the Lenten season was that you had to give something up. Coming from a Baptist tradition, this wasn’t always observed in the churches I grew up in. Many times, I watched in confusion as friends from other faith traditions willingly gave up things each year. I didn’t get it.
People typically give up things they have an unhealthy indulgence for, whether that be social media, chocolate, alcohol, or fast food. The thing that you are fasting from is supposed to direct more of your attention towards God’s will for your life and away from that which is of the world. Or at least that’s what they tell you.
As I think about the season of Lent and giving something up for Jesus, I can’t help but wonder, are we giving up the right things? I think it’s important to cleanse our minds and our bodies from the toxins we constantly feed into. However, I think there might be something deeper here, something more we can get rid of. What things are we holding onto that we are reluctant to give up?
Lent is a season of renewal. It’s a season of cleansing. It’s a season of repentance.
One of the most beautiful pictures I’ve witnessed that perfectly illustrates the season of Lent is the journey of a recovering alcoholic.
If you are unfamiliar with recovery programs, many center their foundation on a twelve-step process that guides the suffering addict to a more serene, peaceful way of living.
To give you an idea of the Alcoholics Anonymous program, take a look at its first three steps:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Alcoholics must first realize they are powerless over their disease. They are not in control of their life and there is nothing they can do to fix the problem on their own. The next step is to believe that something greater than themselves can rescue them from their peril. Another tough challenge to push past, seeing that we humans like to think we’ve got it all under control. The third step in this journey is to step out of the driver’s seat and let God take the wheel. This is something incredibly difficult to do, especially considering those of us that like to try to drive from the passenger seat.
What’s compelling about this program is not breaking free of the chemical dependency of this disease. It is so much deeper than that. It’s recognizing that the only way out of the wreckage and imprisonment is to call on a higher power.
I realize we’re not all alcoholics. However, I still think there is something powerful here. And it leads me to more thoughts and questions about what we need to give up in our lives.
What are we holding on to? What are we so desperately clinging to that we can’t let go? What could we give up to ultimately let God’s will take over? What boundaries and walls are we building? Is there past hurt and trauma we can’t seem to shake? Is there too much pride that we can’t set aside? Is fear stopping us? What is separating us from peace and serenity?
I’m discovering so much beauty in the season of Lent. It’s not completely about admitting the ways we’ve failed as children of God. It’s finding hope in a Creator that will rescue us from the mess we continue to make.
Living in the ways of Jesus does come with a cost. The Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent comes from Mark 8:31-38. It says, in part, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
It seems that Jesus is saying “life abundantly” starts with our willingness to let go of everything we’ve put in the way of God’s will for our lives.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, many sponsors tell newly sober members that anything they put before God and their sobriety is the second thing they will lose. That really strikes a chord with me. I think that’s true for all of us. Anything you put before God, you will lose.
So, what are you giving up?