“What are you giving up for Lent?” That’s the question a good friend of mine always asks me. This year, I offered my usual glib response that “I am giving up ‘giving up things for Lent’ for Lent.” Because she is a faithful friend, she has not yet given up on me, and she won’t ever let me get away with glib responses.
So the question lingers. What is it that I am giving up?
Lent, this year, comes a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and as if to add insult to injury, we find ourselves in what can only be called the “Snowpocalypse of 2021.” I write this in a rapidly cooling house with no electricity (this will be published when the power is back on), We must boil any water we do get from the faucet. I’m still recovering from back surgery, which then leads to its own level of hilarity when the power goes off on my powered recliner in a fully reclined position … with me in it … requiring a two person team to get me on my feet.
It is so easy to complain, but I am reminded that I only complain from a place of privilege. Lent this year is hard for me because it has forced me to realize how I am prone to operate out of a position of privilege and power.
In owning up to the privilege and inherent self-confidence that was part of my own upbringing, I am awakened to the reality that I have always been taught to start from the place of power and privilege. One of the poems of my childhood was Invictus by William Ernest Henley. The last verse of the poem tells it all:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Much of my life, I have lived with the notion that I am the master of my fate … the captain of my soul.
Then death makes an unexpected visit … a pandemic surges out of control … our divisive, rhetoric-filled world explodes in violence. It feels as if my head is spinning as the truth confronts me with its message: You are not in control.
As I shared these thoughts with my daughter, she made the comment that speaks to where my heart is. She said, “When I move into a minimalist space, that is where I meet God.”
Yes. Yes, it is!
The primary theme in my life … my opus … is founded upon the simplest phrase: “Let go, and let God.” The art of letting go for this Enneagram 7 … and very Type A … personality of mine requires considerable work. It asks of me that I stop struggling and live with the assurance offered us by Christ.
In Matthew 6 (an often used text for Ash Wednesday), Jesus challenges us to practice a level of humility that doesn’t come easily for us. He challenges us not to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. He challenges us to give generously, to pray earnestly, to fast in private, and to let this be about how we connect with God and our world from the place of weakness and powerlessness.
My back surgery was 1 February, and as I found myself moving onto the operating table with the first shot in my IV taking hold, I uttered the simplest prayer: “Lord, I’m giving myself to you. I will be me, and I am confident that … in my release … in my letting go … you will be God.”
It is finally about acting out our death. Had we been able to be together for this Lent, we would be receiving the mark of the cross in ashes. As they are given, they are given with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It begins with the place of weakness. A place where we finally can’t fully defeat the virus … we can’t control the weather … we have no guarantee of another day … a place where death itself is our final act of letting go.
The good news, friends, is that, when we move to that place where we realize we are no longer in control, it is there that we meet God.
I think Paul had it right: We are sown in weakness, and we are raised with Christ in power. (1 Corinthians 15:43)
So I am giving up control for Lent. I am actively creating space for people whose voices are often unheard. I am practicing silence instead of speaking. I am listening for God to speak hope in our world. I am practicing vulnerability and community.
As Lent begins, I invite you to join me on this journey that utilizes our weakness and powerlessness as our starting place. To my friend, I have decided what I am giving up. I am giving up myself.