It’s Good Friday. Lent is nearly at an end. Now is as good a time as ever to look over our Lenten disciplines and take stock of where we’ve come. As many of the KAL-ers have been discussing our Lenten experiences on the Ravelry forum, it seems like a lot of what we are facing as we review Lent is just… failure.
Giving up knitting for Lent did not go exactly how I thought it would. During the first week or two, I had several good reflections and learned a lot about myself. But as fatigue set in, I just became more and more resigned to the fact that I cannot sit still. More than one class session was completely lost on me, as with nothing else to do, I did everything from doodle new designs to edit pictures to do administrative stuff on my laptop. (You will notice now that my entire archive of blog posts are now accurately archived.) One of the major sacrifices in giving up knitting was giving up the security of having something to do in my bag at all times, something to keep my hands busy if I was stuck in an unexpected corner with nothing to do. But towards the end, I’ve started occasionally putting my drop spindle and some fiber in my bag to take the edge off.
This has made me wonder if I shouldn’t be genuinely worried. If an activity is particularly engaging (like watching a movie in a theatre, or listening to a lecture from a famous person, or a good personal conversation), I can sit pretty still. And I have myself fairly well trained to sit through sermons quietly. But the majority of the time, I just can’t. As I sit in the car, holding the GPS in a death grip, or as I sit in class, making charts in excel, or as I chat with my friends, twisting and untwisting the tassels on the ends of an afghan, I wonder if there’s some real chemical brain dependency related to manual activity. As one friend suggested, “Maybe you should have taken up smoking for Lent!”
The point of spiritual disciplines in Lent is not to perform some great spiritual accomplishment, or to achieve some act of growth on our own. As I wrote at the start of this journey, fasting takes away the comforts we use to hide our weaknesses. Fasting brings those weaknesses to the surface so we can work on them. It’s hard, though, when confronted with those weaknesses, to feel anything but powerless. And facing the end of Lent, I feel as if I’ve taken more steps backward than forward. I guess, in some situations, the first step to be taken is the Socratic one, when the blinders are lifted and you realize just how far you have to go. It’s better than nothing, but it isn’t terribly comforting.
Yet after all this hand-wringing (literal and otherwise), I have to say that no matter how much of a failure you feel like at the end of Lent, it doesn’t really matter – Lent has succeeded if it drives you to the cross. And there’s nothing like facing sin and failure head on to drive one to one’s knees, thanking Jesus for taking the punishment we deserve so we can be acceptable to God despite our imperfections. No matter how much we screw up, God forgives us, because we’ve been reconciled through his Son. We can keep coming back to him over and over for the rest of our lives, because Jesus opened a way to the Father. The author of Hebrews nailed this fantastic truth down for us, saying so much in a few short sentences:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16
Jesus has the job of judging us at the end of all things, but he took the punishment of that judgment upon Himself. He presents God to us in a way we can grasp, being fully God yet one of us, and he brings us to God with him, presenting us to God purified by his sacrifice. That’s what “priest” means – a mediator between God and humanity, the only person qualified to do so because he is completely both. He healed the breach – all we have to do is walk across it. And confronting my failure through the discipline of Lent reminds me to return again, accepting merciful forgiveness and finding grace to help me in my time of need.
God is so cool.
For further reading: One last book I will shoot your well is Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace. This is a classic book, very readable, often quite funny, convicting, and heartwarming. Grace is so humbling, and in humble acceptance, there is great freedom.