I have a confession to make- sometimes the story of Lent makes me wish I could disappear off to the wilderness for 40 days. Now I am in no way saying that what Jesus did in the story in Matthew 4 was have a holiday. He went to the desert and didn’t eat or drink the whole time. I can’t even pull that off for a few hours. He was tempted by Satan himself- not someone I’d like to run into, personally. But the modern-day working mum in me reads the passage and a little part of me thinks ‘Forty days of peace and quiet and nature! Oh my goodness, what I would do with all that time!’
I guess what really inspires me about the story- and hopefully redeems me from the bit of blasphemy above- is what Jesus gains through the experience. Because the very next story in Matthew 4, is where His ministry begins. And He gets to work with clarity and confidence. It makes me wonder what it must have been like to have that time in the desert, completely reliant on God with no distractions. Sure we read about the difficlut parts of the experience, but don’t you think it must have been amazing to be so close to God during that time that you could hear Him and the angels speak?
Recently a friend- who happens to be Buddhist- made a statement which really challenged me. While bemoaning the busyness of life (something she and I do frequently), she commented,
‘I realised a while ago that meditation is the thing that centers me and helps me find meaning in life- and I had cut it out completely. So now I get up half hour earlier so that I can make sure it’s the first thing I do each day.’
I’m usually pretty open about the fact that I struggle to fit any prayer or devotions in most days. What I perhaps don’t often say is that there was a point in my life where that time in conversation with God was the thing that kept me going each day. It was what helped me face life’s highs and lows, and make sense of them. It was in those moments of reflection that I heard God’s call to do the work that I am doing now. So it surprised me when I thought about this from my friend’s perspective. Why on earth have I let this time in my day slip to the bottom of the priority list?? Is everything else really more urgent?
I tell this story because it’s helped me see the story of Lent in a different light. We give things up because Jesus set a good example for us- sacrifice is a really important part of the Christian faith. But this year I’m pondering about the things which fill the space that’s left behind. Yes we give something up- quite often it’s something we feel we might have become dependent on. But what do we lean on during this time instead? When we have cravings for the thing we’ve sacrifice, do we fill it with another addiction? Or maybe it’s even easier for those of us who are busy to fill that space instead with little tasks which seem important at the time. Would it be so wrong to fill that gap with something that might, in the long run, build us up and make us healthier and happier instead?
So in this second week of Lent- the one where we start to realise just how hard it will be to give that pesky thing up- I’m asking a new question:
What are you picking up for Lent?
What’s filling the gap for you? Is it something just to get you through- or is it something which is actually better for you? For me it’s making more time to read my Bible and pray, but for you it might be spending more time with family, using exercise time to focus your thoughts, developing a God-given gift or skill, or simply spending time in the presence of people who build you up and believe in you. Chances are these are all things that you’ve been meaning to do, but somehow they seem less important than other things. Maybe, as we let go of something for Lent, it’s ok to pick something up that helps you to hear God’s voice more clearly in your life.