Lenten Discipline (Part II)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. Luke 4:1-13
I think of [Lent] as an Outward Bound for the soul. No one has to sign up for it, but if you do then you give up the illusion that you are in control of your life.
[Lent] is when you find out who you are. That is when you find out what you really miss and what you really fear. Some people dream about their favorite food. Some long for a safe room with a door to lock and others just wish they had a pillow, but they all find out what their pacifiers are—the habits, substances, or surroundings they use to comfort themselves, to block out the pain and fear that are normal parts of being human.
Without those things they are suddenly exposed, like someone addicted to painkillers whose prescription has just run out. It is hard. It is awful. It is necessary, to encounter the world without anesthesia, to find out what life is like with no comfort but God. I am convinced that ninety-nine percent of us are addicted to something, whether it is eating, shopping, blaming, or taking care of other people. The simplest definition of an addiction is anything we use to fill the empty place inside of us that belongs to God alone.
That hollowness we sometimes feel is not a sign of something gone wrong. It is the holy of holies inside of us, the uncluttered throne room of the Lord our God. Nothing on earth can fill it, but that does not stop us from trying. Whenever we start feeling too empty inside, we stick our pacifiers into our mouths and suck for all we are worth. They do not nourish us, but at least they plug the hole.
To enter the wilderness is to leave them behind, and nothing is too small to give up. Even a chocolate bar will do. For forty days, simply pay attention to how often your mind travels in that direction. Ask yourself why it happens when it happens. What is going on when you start craving a Mars bar? Are you hungry? Well, what is wrong with being hungry? Are you lonely? What is so bad about being alone? Try sitting with the feeling instead of fixing it and see what you find out.
Chances are you will hear a voice in your head that keeps warning you what will happen if you give up your pacifier. “You’ll starve. You’ll go nuts. You won’t be you anymore.” If that does not work, the voice will move to level two: “That’s not a pacifier. That’s a power tool. Can’t you tell the difference?” If you do not fall for that one, there is always level three: “If God really loves you, you can do whatever you want. Why waste your time on this dumb exercise?”
If you do not know whom that voice belongs to, read Luke’s story again. Then tell the devil to get lost and decide what you will do for Lent. Better yet, decide whose you will be. Worship the Lord your God and serve no one else. Expect great things, from God and from yourself. Believe that everything is possible. Why should any of us settle for less?
Adapted from Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way