My twin daughters are 11-years-old (how quickly the time passes!) and one of them has recently become interested in reading books on the Holocaust. The protective mom side of me was hesitant at first because … wow … what a horrific era of modern-day world history. I wanted to shield her from that. And certainly, just a disclaimer: I am previewing the books she’s choosing in this genre so as to be able talk about them with her and to ensure she isn’t stumbling into subjects that are too mature for her. And yet. I’m also convicted that I cannot protect either of my daughters from the reality of our broken world, and nor do I want to keep them from learning about periods of history that illustrate this reality very clearly. We live in a broken world desperately in need of a Redeemer who will return one day to make All.Things.New. He came to give new hearts to those who look to Him in faith, and throughout human history, we the redeemed are called to work out our personal redemption from sin in the relationships, families, and communities in which our God places us. On today – Holocaust Remembrance Day – I think part of my redemption includes a purposeful remembrance. In meditating on that and why, I penned the words of this poem. I offer it as an invitation, not a condemnation. An invitation to remember and why we must remember, not just the Holocaust, but all the areas in our world today desperate for the justice we the redeemed are to bring through the power of our risen King Jesus.
Everything I wrote two years ago is still true. Not the specifics of my Lenten fast, but my heart exposed through the season of Lent. I offer it to you again as a call to repentance, an invitation to come and feast on the good news of a body broken for you and a body raised to life for you during the next concentrated days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.
I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.
About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.
- Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
- “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
- Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
- I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.
My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.
And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.
It is not even noon yet, and I am aware of how much I need the grace of repentance that Lent invites me into on today’s Ash Wednesday. I have lost my patience with the children you have entrusted me with – the souls I am to be nurturing into faith and repentance. What a high calling! And an impossible one.
Could it be that my greatest Lenten fast will start with admitting I have no strength to parent?
Could it be that the deepest Lenten repentance will happen as I lead my children into it by example (and necessity)?
Could it be that engaging in mercy and justice for me, in this season of parenting littles, will mean that I show mercy first to these two who are entirely dependent upon me for all of their needs?
Could it be that promoting justice begins with repentance of the entitlement I feel about the sacrifices I make on their behalf?
I turn away from such a prayer, but you invariably call me back. You show me a love that has loved me in my low estate, and a love that fights on my behalf for justice, and a love that grows to match (and overcome) the strength of my rebellious will. Lord Jesus, teach me to love this Lenten season. Lord Jesus, teach me how you have first loved me (and how you always FIRST love me … this love is what shapes and propels my love for my children).
In the name of the Father of all compassion and the God of all mercy, I beg you for Lenten grace this Ash Wednesday.