Over the past seven months I’ve been suffering from digestive issues that have yet to be diagnosed. All I can say so far is what my problem is not. Through the course of all the testing and retesting, I have been changing my diet in an attempt to pinpoint what might be causing (or adding to) my distress. I have at one time or another cut out all fats, all acidic foods, all gluten, alcohol, caffeine and throughout the long process nearly every kind of processed foods (junk food of every kind). None of it has made a difference so far, so now I’m off refined sugars for a while.
After more than half a year of giving things up, you can well imagine that when the season of Lent begins today and people in the Christian Church turn their thoughts toward fasting, and denial as a form of spiritual exercise, my heart will not be in it. Been there, done that – for six months already. And I don’t feel any better for it.
But then again, I don’t think I ever really have. I’ve done the Lenten fasting. I’ve given things up for Lent. Sometimes successfully sometimes not. But in the end what did I really gain from it all? In those instances when my cravings were more than a match for my will power I was left humbled and hollowed – feeling like a secret failure. In the one or two times when my will dominated my flesh I felt the temporary joy of being a better man … and then quickly went back to my old ways. Was I any better for it? Not really. Indeed, where my pride took hold I might even admit to being worse off for the whole experience.
But that’s the problem with giving things up for Lent … it’s not meant to be a measure of our devotion, or a work deserving of praise. It is really meant simply as a way to remove those obstacles that come between us and Christ. To put aside the distractions so we can more clearly see our saviour. But more often than not, that obstacle, that distraction, is ME … so what then? Even if fI could give up myself, it wouldn’t bring me any closer to Christ … just further away from me.
So this Lent instead of worrying about what to give up, I will instead add something to my life. Jesus. Instead of spending my effort on avoiding me, I will devote my time to meeting Christ. This Lent I will Confession my sins and failures and seek Absolution from His precious Gospel. I will take time to remember my Baptism. I will set apart time to come to the altar of the Lord. As C.F.W. Walther once said:
Therefore let us not wait until perhaps in our last hour we must cast away all our own doings, all our own works, and all our own righteousness and worthiness, and cling only to the Word and the Holy Sacraments. Let us already now begin with casting this ballast from the ship of our heart, that our little ship may not sink and perish in the storms of temptation and death. Let us confide in the Word, which, in being preached, proclaims grace to all and which, in Holy Absolution, announces it to us in particular. Let us confide in our Baptism, by which already long ago we were received into God’s covenant of grace. For this covenant remains unbroken to all eternity. Lastly, let us confide in the consolation of the Lord’s Supper as often as we partake of it. There Christ gives us His body and His blood as incontrovertible pledges that we also participate in His redemption.
That first consolation remains even then, when our own heart condemns us. It affords consolation even in the hour of death, when our whole life accuses us, and the world and satan bear witness against us. It affords consolation even for the Day of Judgment; for what God Himself has promised, that He will and He must keep. Amen.
This Lent I will give up the need to give things up. This Lent, I will add instead the promises and consolation of a gracious God. A God who has, whether in my sickness or in my health, added all things to my life through the gift of His Son. That way, even when my resolve weakens, and my intentions crumble under my weakness, my hope and joy and salvation will rest secure in the hands of the One gave up even His own life on the cross for me. I will add His promise, for the One who has promised, cannot do other than fulfill that promise in Christ.
Quotation from C.F.W. Walther, Sermon on John 20:19-31 Regarding Absolution, translated by August Crull, and printed in At Home in the House of My Fathers, 2009 CPH, Matthew Harrison editor. page 210.