For the past few years, my wife and I have chosen to observe Lent by either giving up some worldly pleasure or by taking on some sort of discipline that prepares our hearts for the Easter season. Whether it was the year that we gave up coffee (a brutal first week followed by six more weeks of sluggishness) or the year that my wife read the WHOLE BIBLE (notice I did not include myself in this mention), the observance of Lent has always proven to be a time of preparation and reflection…when I didn’t screw it up.
The embarrassing truth is that I have managed to drain all of the spirituality out of Lent in a litany of creative ways. Take a look at the list below and see if any of these sound familiar. At one time or another, I have been guilty of each of the following:
The Stupid Human Trick – Lent is not a time of reflection and sacrifice; it is a trial to overcome. It is like I am playing some spiritual version of Double Dare and Lent is the Physical Challenge.
Christian Lust – For most of Lent my heart is consumed with the joy that I will feel when Easter rolls around and I finally get to partake of the very thing that I have denied during Lent. Somewhere waaaaay below my desire for sweets, coffee, etc., there was a genuine excitement that I would celebrate my Savior’s resurrection.
The Easy Way Out – “I’m giving up 18th century Russian literature for Lent!”
The Late Arriver – Step 1: Realize about 12 days after Ash Wednesday that it is, in fact, Lent and that I should probably give something up. Step 2: Immediately think of something that I haven’t had in the past 12 days and continue refraining from that very thing so that I get full credit for the Lenten sacrifice.
The Self-Server – Also known as “The Delayed New Year’s Resolution.”
I could list several others, but I think you see what I am saying here. My proclivity to rely on my own power can drive me to completely miss what God wants to do in me during this season. Interestingly enough, several of today’s Daily Office readings address that very theme. The readings cover people who draw their power from all sorts of places: God’s Word (Psalm 119), riches (Psalm 49), the world (Psalm 53), their own plans (Genesis 37:25-36), and the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:1-13).
But the answer to my own Lenten shortfalls lies in today’s Gospel reading. Lent is not a time for us to bear down and try harder, nor is it a time to try to impress God or others with our discipline. Rather, the true spirit of reflection and sacrifice can only be found when we, like the leper in Matthew, fall to our knees before Jesus and say to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” When our hearts reach that point, the resurrected Christ will reach out to us during this season and reply, “I am willing; be cleansed.”