“It’s going to eat my lunch” is an often used phrase when a difficult challenge looms ahead. It came from the all too common experience of a school yard bully who took lunch money from a smaller kid and used it to buy his own lunch. So, what is about to eat your lunch? What threatens to overpower you?
The temptation in challenging times is to trust our human abilities rather than submit to a radical trust in God. Adam and Eve squared off with the Tempter in the Garden of Eden. They remembered God’s directive for the situation but relied on their own wisdom instead. The results were tragic. They were tragic for themselves as well as myriads of others. It does not seem fair that anyone else should bear the consequence of another’s misstep, yet time and again it happens. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
When a person hurts someone they care about or when they repeat a self-destructive act; the default response is to be their own god, to rely on their own abilities to solve the problem. If that does not work, many will recognize their need for God’s forgiveness and remember the first part of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins”. It is far too rare for anyone to remember the last part of the verse “and purify us from all unrighteousness”. If they did, they would go beyond feeling sorry for what they had done, to feel sorry for being the kind of person that does such things.
God’s purpose is not simply to forgive our sins, but to transform us from our self-centeredness to a person who radically trusts in God and seeks to open to the power of the Holy Spirit to “fill with all the fullness of God”. Jesus prays in John’s gospel for us to experience a union with God that is the same as his union with God.
Ash Wednesday is today. It begins a forty day period focusing on relinquishing self-control to God’s control. These forty days collectively are known in the Christian church as the season of Lent. The season is well known as a time to give up something highly enjoyable such as coffee, dessert, television, or a favorite soft drink. The idea is not merely to learn discipline so as to better control our sinful nature. Nor is its historical practice relegated to taking the time or money thus freed to spend more time with God or support more outreach to those in need. Lent is this and more.
These common practices of detachment in Lent serve the deeper purpose of nurturing “the spirit of trust that is attached to God alone”, says Adele Calhoun. Detachment is not an end in itself. It is a bridge to God; attachment. It does not take long to consider the pain and distortion of true humanity that comes from disregarding God’s commandments and calling. Similarly, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is quickly embraced as highly desirable.
The bully in life may be a real physical person. Perhaps the bully is not found on the playground, but in the office. The bully’s name could be unemployment or health. The decision each one makes when facing life’s challenges is the same one the Old Testament Joshua faced while teetering on the border between the wilderness and the Promised Land. “Choose this day whom you will serve”; self or Jesus. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”