Student and friend of N.T. Wright Online, Robert McBurnett, shares his reflections on how Lent is impacting him this year. You can learn more about Lent in Prof. Esau McCaulley’s course, A Journey Through Lent, on sale now for $19.99. ENROLL HERE!
This has been a distinctively different Lenten season for me, as a result of which my life will be forever changed (hopefully). Before you tune out, thinking Lent is a Catholic celebration that doesn’t pertain to you as a Protestant, hang in with me.
I am a lifelong United Methodist (Protestant). I grew up in a Lenten-free environment. In many ways, there was a pronounced resistance against anything Lent-related because, well, “That’s what Catholics do.” Easter was Easter with the run-up of Palm Sunday the week before – celebration enough. But a couple of years ago, some United Methodist churches, mine included, began folding in Ash Wednesday services, which invariably invited us to “give up something for Lent.” I participated in the Ash Wednesday service, but this “giving up something for Lent” was a bridge too far.
But as this year’s Ash Wednesday approached, I heard Prof. Esau McCaulley suggest a slight deviation from the practice as I had understood it. He said rather than give up chocolate or alcohol or social media during Lent, we should give up a practice we know needs to be expelled from our lives. I wasn’t on board yet, but at least it offered a productive, potentially lasting outcome that the standard “sacrifices” did not.
He said rather than give up chocolate or alcohol or social media during Lent, we should give up a practice we know needs to be expelled from our lives. Click To Tweet
Within a couple of days, one of my most important relationships boiled over again. I say ‘again’ because there was a lingering air of tension and conflict seemingly ever-present between us. It hit me that what I was to give up for Lent was the friction in the situation. But how? I began examining the events that triggered the recent rift to understand how I contributed to the problem. Surely, it wasn’t all their fault. I quickly realized I was too quick to offer opinions that dismissed my friend, and I was quick to take offense. Upon which, of course, I got defensive.
I made a personal commitment to 1) keep my opinions to myself unless they were directly solicited, 2) assume any criticisms were not directed at me, and 3) when I was directly criticized, choose not to respond and to let it slide. Maybe you won’t be surprised (I sure was) by what an immediate difference it made. Suddenly, the tension eased, and I was much more relaxed. The conflicts subsided.
You’re probably thinking, “It can’t be that easy,” and you are correct. A few days after my self-commitment, I regressed and offered an inflammatory opinion. I took offense at perceived slights. I welcomed in my old friend Defensiveness. It wasn’t until hours later that I realized I had also violated my Lent commitment. Acknowledging that Lenten commitments are not all-or-nothing propositions, I recommitted to starting over. Of course, a few days later, I lapsed again.
Here’s what I’m learning. On the days I remind myself, “It’s Lent, and I have a Lent commitment,” during my morning centering exercises, I generally manage to stay the course. On the days I skip this step, I am much more prone to lapse. It’s a matter of renewing the commitment daily, and it has been cathartic.
Now, here is my hope. As I progress through these 40 days, I realize I must recommit every day to easing the tension in that relationship. I also recall the counsel of the pastor of my youth. He said, “If you adopt a daily practice for 30 consecutive days and stick to it, it will, in all likelihood, become permanent.”
How my life will improve if I can sustain it. Who knows? Maybe I can extend the practice to other relationships which are strained by these traits of mine.
It’s not what you give up for Lent. It’s what you gain.