Lent May Offend You, Trust It.
I have never given up chocolate, coffee or dessert for Lent. Honestly, I struggle with how to engage this season. I value it. In many ways, I look forward to it. There is something about these 40 days that resets me. It is essential for people to pull back, surrender, take a look at what matters in life and create space for self-evaluation.
There is a theme I have restated throughout my years teaching high school students and speaking to parents: Self-reflection is indispensable. I’ve said it many times in different ways…
“If you never sit with yourself and take notice of who you are becoming or what habits you are forming…if you never pay attention to what strongholds are taking a deeper root in your person, you will become a lesser version of who you are meant to be. And the reality is that everyone in the room will be able to name your primary character flaw, while you remain blind, having no idea how difficult a person you have become.”
I mean it. I believe this is true. Not only in my life, but I have witnessed it in the lives of those around me. I observed how often I heard stories that affirmed this truth. Marriages falling apart because of the refusal to acknowledge a flaw or pattern of behavior; stubborn kids, refusing to glean from peers or teachers about what shortcoming to change; co-workers griping to their ideas with no thought for another’s opinion or insight. It gets so messy when we don’t look at our hurtful and unhealthy responses.
Without a doubt, the most agonizing and effectual moments in my life have been when a friend has pointed out a poisonous vine choking my character. Like light shining onto my soul, they extinguished the power of what was becoming a hidden force, cutting it off at the root. Though I could sense something was off, they were naming it. It had become a blind spot, a rationalized behavior. Another set of eyes were essential to my freedom.
Lent is meant to reform us. It’s a catalyst to surface the suppressed darkness inside of every human. 40 days to withdraw and let the light shine, to let the warmth of it soften and the clarity redirect. 40 days meant to lead to a lifestyle of sabbath, quiet, meditation, prayer, sacrifice and renewal. A time to disconnect from chaos both around and inside of us.
I have noticed a phenomena with Americans. Though not new, there is a more intense refusal to feel uncomfortable about anything. The first response is an aggressive push-back against anyone who speaks constructive criticism. The assumption is that the words spoken were intentional and malicious, even hate-filled. We want no one and nothing to provoke cause for self-reflection of personal flaws. We shut down anyone who disagrees with us or even makes us mildly uneasy, when maybe the cause for the unease is the very thing to examine. Instead of doing self-appraisal to understand why we are feeling what we are feeling and IF we should trust it, we jump to an attack. Ironically, the hyper-awareness of what is named “microaggressions,” has resulted in more anger and suspicion. Ordinary comments and questions, observations or insights, are under a microscope leading to immediate misunderstandings and false conclusions. We trust our emotions too much. We begin to believe everyone is dangerous. We assume ill-intent under the surface of all humans. The troubling outcome has been a generation of fragile and easily offended people. Adding fuel, social media offers a boxing ring for the offender to make any conflict a world-wide drama or sorts.
Lent, when practiced as it is meant to be practiced, will offend. This season will invite us to look at our personal wrongdoings and flaws. The act of looking at our darkness is the precursor to humility, forgiveness, and empathy. The confession of wrongs leads to freedom for the soul and subsequent peace with others. We are quick to throw darts and call other people hateful when we have failed to see our own selfishness, pride and critical nature.
In addition, Lent will put a spotlight on the cross, the sacrifice, the payment made to cover the sins of the world. Lent announces that we are all offenders; we can forgive because we know there have been countless times we have been forgiven. When another slights us, or makes us uncomfortable, most likely we have slayed them with words. Our default is to judge instead of show mercy, our natural inclination is greed rather than generosity, our first response is fear rather than trust, our last priority is prayer and our first is control, our grudges run deep and our self-absorption is toxic. A little self-reflection reveals this to be true and as a result humility begins to shape our responses.
The goal is clear, we want a more peaceful and unified society. No one disagrees. Lent, the cross, the resurrection, the power of forgiveness can get us there. If we learn to be slow to accuse and quick to admit when we have done wrong, we may see love do its job. We may even trust love to do the hard work of offending sometimes.
So be still during this season. Be intentional. Let Lent be the agent of change in your weary and defensive heart. Let quiet reflection give you space to hear that you are loved in the middle of your mess and, therefore, free to love others, even the ones you hate.