This Quaker girl is struggling with Lent, again. It's Ash Wednesday. Really, we haven't even begun. As I was wrestling with fasting, I felt like we were making new year's resolutions. Then, God led me to read a blog post by Doug Harrison. No, I do not know him. No, I have never been to this particular site before. I tell you, God led me here. So, as I was frustrated with myself for making Lent into what I know it's not (self will power/new year resolution). He said,
Lately I have begun to think that our lenten choices are beginning to feel more and more like new year’s resolutions than spiritual exercises: quit smoking, exercise, skip dessert, drink less, eat more broccoli… And if I happen to loose a couple pounds along the way, so be it. Self control and discipline are good and praise worthy, but I do have to wonder if that kind of discipline really needs God. If our lenten practices have become mere efforts of will power and self-help then I am pretty sure we are still missing out on the transformative power of this kind of fasting can be: grace.
Lent is more than just a period of spring cleaning. The grace of Lent is that all of our lives can be lived, risked, and dared with the promise that we don’t come to the end of our story just because we come to the end of our own strength and will power. So instead of being a time for us to find out just how strong we can be, Lent disrupts our lives, asks us to give up things we want, and in fact even things we need - like some food - so that we have to confront what we cannot do.
As I spent time in prayer, the Holy Spirit directed me to Matthew 23:23-28. Brace yourself, I was blown back in my seat!
So when I give up chocolate I am removing a vice that keeps me from facing parts of my life where I really need God. But giving up chocolate can also give me just enough distraction that I become more aware that I am craving for chocolate, than I am for healing.
The test is whether it is about the chocolate or about God (emphasis mine).
Here it is in the NIV:
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
25-26 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
27-28 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
American Standard Version (ASV):
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone.
24 Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel!
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
I don't want to polish up the outside of me but on the inside be full of excess, greed, self-indulgence, and pride.
What if.... What if what I gave up was more than something physical but something that brought me closer to God?
What if I...
Give up resentment and become more forgiving.
Give up hatred and return good for evil.
Give up complaining and be more grateful.
Give up pessimism and become more hopeful.
Give up worry and become more trusting.
Give up anger and become more patient.
Give up pettiness and become more noble.
Give up gloom and become more joyful.
Give up doubt and turn to God.
(Found on FaceBook at St. Jude.)
For me, I may not know what Lent is, but I know what it's not. It's not a time for me to clean up the outside and neglect the inside. I do not want Jesus' words to the Pharisees and scribes to ring true for me.
Using Doug's words, " So as we venture head-long into these forty days in the wilderness, let us be brave, not in the kind of heroic sacrifices we can make, but let us be brave enough to face the places where nothing but God will help us. And if we can’t be that courageous, then let us just have enough faith to empty our lives a little so we have to face our need for God. And if we can’t have that faith may we just have enough obedience to shut up anyway and give God a chance to be God (emphasis mine)."
Today's #RAK is:
Visit someone who is lonely. Take some time every once in a while to visit someone at a nursing/retirement home or hospital who doesn't have many visitors.