Can Lent and delight co-exist?
Delight. My year word. My life word.
I’m learning it, growing into it, rejoicing in it.
But angst, resistance, and fear are weaving their sinews into my heart. I don’t know what to do with Lent.
Never before have I participated in the season, but it’s coming down on me now and it feels unmistakably like duty. But what am I supposed to do with this burdensome sense of duty when I’m convinced the thrust of my life, of grace life, is to break free from duty toward God and rest in mutual delight of one another?
I’m like a duty-addict, just recovering, facing my greatest temptation yet.
Of course I can give things up. I can fast. I have a decent amount of willpower in some areas; I could conquer Lent and prove myself to myself and to others and to God. How great and worthy I must be. But it’d all be a facade. It would have the appearance of holiness but the heart of a filthy prideful tomb.
This is not the path of delight. This is not the path I want to travel.
So how do I reconcile the two? How can I observe this ancient practice of Lent that has its roots in ‘doing-penance’ – as if there’s anything I can do to save myself – and a theological background surrounded by and crammed full of duty?
It’s not the observance of festivals and ceremony that make me right before God, it’s the sacrifice of His Son – my delight.
He denied the flesh. He fasted and sacrificed. He did what I can’t – what none of us can. So what’s the purpose of Lent?
What’s the value of picking one thing to abstain from for a short period of time, probably to gorge on it before and afterward? And do I pick something easy or difficult? Does it matter?
God, I know this season is not commanded by your Word, nor prescribed as a practice to achieve some level of holiness. By practicing this, you will love me no more than you already do now. It will not change my inherent value in You. Yet, for various reasons, I need to observe and participate. As daffodils are coming to life, I must put something to death. Dead to sin, alive to righteousness. I have died with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. Your grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts – lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, the boastful pride of life. Considering all loss compared to the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ – who loved Himself and gave Himself for us – who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.
Just there. Is that the glimmer of delight in all of this? Is that the Heavenly Light coming to pierce us to the dividing of bone and marrow? Is that the assurance I need – glory brightness and delight, thinly veiled by the pain and darkness of self-denial?
There. There it is. The short path of suffering, denying oneself, is of minuscule length along the path of eternal delight and joy. But it is the same path.
I will delight in self-denial. It’s the pattern my Savior set for me. I will delight in self-denial because it comes from love and longing for the ways of Jesus. It was His love that led Him to deny His fullness, to become lowly, to go without. It was not duty that saved us, it was His loving delight in His creation that reconciled and redeemed us. God loves us and sent His Son – a sacrifice. This is the nature of true delight.
I don’t have to observe Lent. But this year I chose to. And it is delight that will save me this Lent season. It will save me from my self-righteousness and pride. It will guide me in love.
Delight will rescue us all from duty.