the danger of Lent from a self-professed Pharisee

Last year, I practiced Lent seriously. According to my definition of “serious,” and I gave up not just one thing, but multiple things in this 40-day season of self-denial to prepare for Easter. My Lenten fast last year included denying myself Target trips, non-essential phone apps, sweets, and TV watching. Wowzers. What was I thinking? Good thing I blogged about it … !

But what was the result of this? Yes, certainly less needless spending of money and time … but also having to confront my age-old temptation to be better on my own strength. Lent broke me last year. And I think that’s part of why I want to practice Lent differently this year. Not to avoid being broken, but to get to that broken repentance place sooner. 

For someone who too often puts my trust in my own strength and “right-ness,” Lent is dangerous. It can provide a new law for me to follow and feel alternately better about myself AND self-condemned; it can give me a false standard by which to judge others and look down on “those who don’t practice Lent like I do” (note the upturned nose and haughty air in that statement); it can stand in the way of the heart of the Lenten season: which is to find refuge in Jesus’ righteousness for me and repent of all the ways I’ve sought to establish my own rightness with God apart from Easter.

And so this Lenten season I’m not sure what I’m going to abstain from. It won’t be like last year. I’m struggling to balance the value of fasting with the danger of self-denial-for-my-own-sake. I want to practice a more godward rhythm to my days, so after our Sunday school study last week about the importance of the “Daily Office” (through our study on “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Pete Scazzero), I’ve ordered his book of “Daily Office” prayers and meditations, and I think Lent provides a natural launching point for starting the practice of turning to God often throughout a day for strength. Turning TO God, away from myself. I am praying that God will make it clear how to incorporate some type of fast as part of this practice of this unique season. And even more so, I am praying that God will give me a true fast from my attempts at establishing righteousness on my own apart from him. This passage in Isaiah 58 seems appropriate for us on this Ash Wednesday:

Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure … Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, … And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

4 thoughts on “the danger of Lent from a self-professed Pharisee

  1. …a more godward rhythm to my days… I love the sound of that!

    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on Daily Office.

    I think I need to abstain from something…not necessarily a material thing, as much as sinful behavior. Hmm…I’ll be praying about that.

    • Melissa, I’m hoping to start my “Daily Office” next week when my book arrives. I’ll let you know. And would love to hear what you abstain from. I joked tongue-in-cheek that I’d abstain from self-righteousness by not abstaining from anything during Lent this year. But I’m actually a bit serious about that!

  2. There is something striking in the reality of failing Lent – that we will break our fast, recommit, and break it again. If not in practice (as Pharisees who see self-denial as an end good, we can be remarkably determined, yes?) in spirit. As an aside, I’ve found Lenten disciplines of Engagement (putting on) to be a helpful alternative to Absitenence. This year, I’m toying with the idea of meditating on God’s love daily during Lent and abstaining from abstaining altogether. 😉

    • Amen, Marissa! Well said. I will join you in focusing on “Engagement” practices this year, particularly thinking of returning to Jesus multiple times a day to pray and read His Word – not just my daily “check-in” (and check that off – too often) of morning devotions.

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