There is, between the wanting and the doing, between the strength of His Sprit and the weakness of our wills, a hope of participation in His sufferings. Despite our own desires for personal gain and personal pleasure we cannot escape the reality that it is in the caldron of trials that the Father’s grace seems most evident. Until we have some great need, until we are in want, we skim the surface of life and lack interest in deeper things.
“I want to know Christ,” Paul says, “and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). At the heart of the Christian faith is the triune God who has worked on our behalf; the Son, sent by the Father, took death into Himself in order to overcome it with His life. During the days of Lent, we turn our focus to this great work of God the Son and seek to know Christ through sharing in His suffering. To this end we sacrifice. We say that we give-upthis or that for Lent, but our true intent is to take-upChrist. Our hope is that through His Spirit we might enter with Him into the Holy of Holy where sits the Father.
We are children who have come to God with our skinned knees complaining of our wounds all the while forgetting what the Son has been through on our behalf. We set aside those things that burden our souls as though we are sacrificing for His sake. In reality we are giving that which is nothing that we might participate in the Triune life of God.
This confusion in our affections, this distractedness by the glitter of life, this is the very sickness of the heart fasting seeks to cure. We sacrifice during lent in order that we might remember that ‘every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). He does not change, but we do. It is, in the end, this very maleableness of our nature that sustains hope. We can be transformed.
All that we have is of little value “compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8). And so our sacrifices are the proffered mud pies of a child’s tea party. All that we hold dear in this life, all that we value pale in comparison to knowing Christ—to sharing in His suffering. And so it is for our benefit that we put aside these things. It is for our own good that we pause and turn our gaze towards heaven where the Father’s name is Holy.
If we look again at that which we have put aside for His sake we may be surprise to see them “full of maggots and beg[ining] to smell” (Ex. 16:20). We must turn and resolve to leave them there that the rot might not enter our hearts. We give up that which is from His hand and cling to Him. We must begin each morning with the confession, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
If someone should ask what you have given up for the Lord say simply, “Nothing! I have taken up Christ.”
Growing up Catholic, Lent has always been about giving stuff up. More specifically, strategically picking the thing that appeared most significant but would be the easiest to do without for a month, all while expecting to over indulge in that given up thing on Sunday when you got the day off from giving it up. I have never really stopped to consider the motivation behind the practice in the first place. The thought of taking on the suffering of Christ for Lent as opposed to giving up something I already know I can live without is such a powerful shift in perspective. I do not enjoy suffering. I try to avoid it whenever I can. Praise Jesus that he didn’t avoid it, but embraced it for our sakes. When we would go to mass at school, it was pretty common for kids to slouch and half sit on the edge of the pews during the times we were supposed to be kneeling. I can remember a nun’s rebuke that Jesus hung on a cross for 3 hours, certainly you can kneel for 5 minutes. So much of my suffering is like a 5 minute kneel (or more honestly a 5 second kneel) when compared to taking on the sin of the world and bearing the wrath of God in our place.