Was honestly my first thought. …and yet heal me.
Was my second.
I was already familiar with meditation, but confession, well, that’s different. Yes, as a Protestant, we confess our sins directly to God, and it’s great. But I realized over the course of the week that too often my confession goes something like: “I’m sorry God for all the bad things I’m sure I did today. And moving on…”
I don’t often really think about my sin. It’s uncomfortable. And I certainly don’t talk about it with anyone else, despite what it says in James:
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
That’s beyond uncomfortable, to a level of vulnerability that I can only aspire to.
But praying the prayers of confession with the She Reads Truth community was exactly what I feared, and hoped for.
It felt like removing a deep, deep splinter. You know it’s going to hurt, but the only way to heal is through the pain.
This prayer in particular ached for days:
Prayer: “The Deeps”
Lord Jesus, Give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach; help me chastely to flee it, and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be thine alone.
Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being.
Give me a deeper knowledge of thyself, as saviour, master, lord and king.
Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth.
Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from thee.
Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until thou alone art seen in me, thy beauty golden like summer harvest, they fruitfulness as autumn plenty.
I have no master but thee, no law but thy will, no delight by thyself, no wealth but that thou givest, no good but that thou blessest, no peace but that thou bestowest.
I am nothing but that thou makest me, I have nothing but that I receive from thee, I can do nothing but that grace adorns me.
Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.
I waited for the service to start sitting at the end of my row, while people bustled around me, greeting each other, reserving their spot with their Bibles while they went to get donuts and coffee.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I knew I couldn’t even muster a Sunday morning smile and “fine,” today.
I closed my eyes and tried to clear my head of all the boiling emotions. Church was starting soon.
Why am I angry?
The thought caught me off guard. I wasn’t angry… just frustrated. Bitter maybe. Ok, definitely a little angry. Fine. Pretty furious, if I was honest.
I felt abandoned, because God had taken some people out of my life that I really wasn’t ok with letting go.
I was overwhelmed and feeling way over my head at work.
And I felt lost. So many things God was doing just didn’t make sense.
I funneled all my anger into one question. I wanted to scream:
God, where are you?
But I just sat there, in my pew. And fought.
Why is this happening to me? Why have you allowed these things to happen to people I love? I just don’t understand what you’re doing. WHERE ARE YOU?
I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like I’d really heard from God. Or the last time I knew I’d seen God at work. Or the last time I felt like He was actually working in me, and using me.
Church would start soon. I had to cram my thoughts into the back of mind to deal with later. To distract myself, I pulled out my phone and started scrolling through emails. I opened my daily Lent devotional from SheReadsTruth, and read:
And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
– Jonah 4:4
I stared at the screen, and let it sink in.
Do you do well to be angry?
It hurt to say it, but I knew the answer.
Of course no. Like Jonah, I’d witnessed God’s mercy. I deserved nothing, and received so much.
Besides, what good did my anger do? What did it accomplish? It didn’t keep me from feeling alone, overwhelmed, and lost. It put a barrier between me and the only One who could help.
I don’t remember the sermon. But I left feeling more hopeful than I had in a long time. I knew the timing of the email wasn’t an accident.
On Monday, before I started on the daunting tasks for the day, I read:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
– Joshua 1:7-9
Then the next day, a friend shared stories from their life with me that reminded me of two things:
I’m not alone.
And as trite as it sounds, God really does have a bigger picture at work.
When I took my seat the next Sunday, while none of the situations in my life had changed, everything else had. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t afraid. And I knew where God was.
Of course, He’d never left.
Relent Part 1: Failing. ReLent = Starting Lent over, and the idea of giving up, which seems to be what these 40 days have been all about.
I just have to say, I’ve really sucked at Lent this year.
And I mean, really, really sucked. Miserably failed.
Two years ago, I observed Lent for the first time, and it transformed my life. Last year, I didn’t do it, and I missed it. So this year, I noted the date weeks before and planned to spend some time meditating on what I would fast from this year. Then, I promptly forgot all about Lent until Ash Wednesday.
I spent the first week of Lent trying to decide what to fast from. Ice Cream? Too easy for someone who’s lactose intolerant. Coffee? I would die. Facebook? Need it for my job. Could I fast from stress? Busyness? Worry? I wish. Then I’d actually have time to sit and think about what I actually should fast from.
I finally decided on meat, “rich meats” to be exact. Several weeks ago, I started attending a Bible study on the book of Daniel. Beth Moore suggested fasting from “rich meats,” like Daniel and his friends did. She defined “rich meats” as beef, pork, not including chicken and fish.
This might be far too easy to really count as a sacrifice, I thought.
I was so wrong.
I quickly lost count of the times I messed up … the corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, the pepperoni pizza, the Ruben sandwiches, the bacon … so many times.
I should be so much better than this. I can’t believe I messed up again. Maybe I should just give up. But this is so simple! Surely if I just try harder, I can get it together …
Another day, another failure. Frustration turned to anger.
Finally, I collapsed on the couch, curled up in a miserable ball of failure, and cried.
I CAN’T DO THIS.
It was sob and a prayer.
Yes. That’s the point.
It was a still small voice. Not audible, felt, more than heard.
And suddenly, the light began to dawn. That’s the point. In order for me to stop rushing and be still, I had to come to the end of myself.
Now, I was ready to listen.
But that didn’t mean I’d like what I’d hear.
ReLent, Part 2: Fighting, is coming soon.
About the name, ReLent. The prefix “re” has the idea of re-doing, starting over, starting again. In some ways, I started my Lent over at this point. I started following the She Reads Truth Lent series, and its changed everything.
“Relent” also means to give up, and give in. So far, that’s been a recurring theme for me.
I remember asking one of my college friends who’d just told me they were fasting for Lent. That’s when I found out that several denominations practice Lent, including Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and growing numbers of Baptists and Mennonites. However, I’ve been asked that question, “Are you Catholic?” So it’s time for a history lesson. You might wonder, Why now? Lent has already started. You’re right, it has. But my philosophy is that some is better than nothing. So if you decide Lent is for you, I don’t think it’s too late to start.
What is “Lent”?
Lent in the Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I found that definition on Wikipedia, so it has to be true (ha!). But honestly, I think it is pretty spot on. But why the word “Lent?” What does that mean?
It actually means “Spring.” It comes from Lenz in German and Lente in Dutch. The German word has the root word for long, because the days begin to lengthen in the spring.
Who started Lent? Lent’s roots go back to Leviticus. God gave the Israelites holidays to remember their history, not unlike thw way Americans celebrate the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. One of these holidays was a day of repentance from sin known as Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 23:27 Moses tells the Israelites to “deny yourselves.” This phrase contains the Hebrew word anah, which means “to afflict one’s throat,” or fasting from food and possibly water. This was a day that the Israelites made themselves miserable as they confessed and repented from their sins, engaging their body with their spirit.
This practice continued in the early church. The converted Jews, released from the Law, no longer had to observe the Jewish Day of Atonement, or any of the other feast or fast days. So the early believers created their own calendar of fasts and feasts, which is still visible in the liturgical calendars used today. Forty days has special significance because Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. Socrates of Constantinople ( not the Greek philosopher but a Greek Christian Historian) mentioned the practice of Lent in his writings, which cover the years 305-439 A.D.
Why Observe Lent? 1. To repent from sin.
Throughout the Old and New Testament, fasting is associated with grief and repentance. Moses, the Israelite nation, David, the apostles, all fasted. As Scot McKnight says in his book, Fasting: The Ancient Practices,
“If our shame over our sin arises in the heart of our very being or finds itself lodged in the core of our conscience – and most of us know just how penetrating this experience is – and if the body and heart are one, depriving ourselves of food and denying ourselves simple pleasures manifest themselves naturally.”
There is something to be said for repenting with your whole body, not just your words. Fasting makes it real. It’s not about punishing ourselves, because we are forgiven and covered by grace, but it is about truly being sorry, being grieved, for our sins.
2. To realize our depravity and dependence.
Fasting is hard for me. I forget and I fail….often. It’s tempting to just give up on fasting entirely. But I’m realizing that even when I fail, I’m still learning. I’m learning how weak I am, how depraved. How tempted by the world I am. How incapable in my own willpower I am, how much I desperately need God. I’m learning humility when I have to come before God and confess that I forgot… again.
All this is good for me. It is killing the self-righteousness and pride that are some of my biggest struggles. It’s also attacking my notion of control over my life and I-can-do-it-myself attitude.
While I’m sure each of our learning experiences is different, I hope you’re encouraged not to quit when failing. Chalk it up to part of the overall learning experience, thank God for grace, and jump back in.
3. To remember Christ’s sacrifice.
This has to be intentional. It’s so easy for me to let fasting become about me. I think about how I feel, why I’m doing it, I compare my fast to others, and I forget the real why: the practice of giving up molds us into become more Christlike by reminding us of all that Jesus gave up for us.
Ann Voskamp puts it this way: “[Lent is] like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”
4. To prepare to celebrate victory.
Lent prepares us for Easter. The sacrifice prepares us for the celebration. We celebrate the end of our sacrifice at the same time we celebrate the reuniting of Jesus with His heavenly glory, and we celebrate new life.
Ann Voskamp quotes the “The Spirituality of the Cross”:
“Without food, we would starve to death. We have to eat to fuel our physical life; otherwise we grow weak and waste away. The only food that can sustain our bodies comes from the death of other living things… There can be no life, even on the physical level, apart from the sacrifice of other life.
What is true for physical life is true for spiritual life — we can only live if there has been a sacrifice.”