Lent is coming. There is nothing particularly holy about observing Lent; it is simply another good opportunity to connect with Jesus and his mission. Right on the cusp of his main work, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and was tempted to give up his mission for power, wealth, and comfort. He resisted, and came back into town filled with the Spirit and willing to be obedient unto death.
In solidarity with Jesus, some of us will try to fast from shadowy forms of power/wealth/comfort or other distractions tomorrow in order to make more room for the Spirit to fill us. It is not easy and we try not to worry too much about success. We are just trying to be faithful and reach for more of God and less of what might weigh us down. We are confessing that we are affected by sin and longing to be made whole. We are trying to repent, or turn around, and come home to God, the Heart of our own heart. We will take the sign of the cross in ashes and remember that we belong to God like beloved children. Fasting doesn’t make us holy in any form (Jesus already has), but it can loosen us up and free us to get into the flow of redemption with God in a deeper and more expansive way. By doing Lent together as a community—on whatever level we are able to engage—we open ourselves up to transformation and healing that can ripple outward beyond us.
In many ways, what will happen this year is up to us. One time before Jesus healed a paralyzed man, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” It seems like a rather obvious question with an obvious answer, especially to someone who has been suffering for a long time—38 years, in this case. Jesus isn’t one to waste words, so why does he ask such an obvious question? Maybe because it is not that obvious, particularly in the spiritual realm. We cling to our sin-sickness at times for various reasons. Here’s three ideas from this story.
1. We do not regard Jesus as a possible healer. Instead of saying Yes! to Jesus’s question, the man in the story dives into an explanation about the curative properties of the pool he’s laying next to. He thinks his problem is that he doesn’t have the help he needs to get into the pool at the right time. He has a formula for his healing that’s just not working, yet. If only he can get it right, he thinks! He has no idea that he is talking to the healer himself.
2. We are “comfortable” in our mess. I like this painting because Jesus is peeking under the tent the man is hiding in. We might be prone to creating isolating fortresses around ourselves in our sicknesses too. It may be dark in there but at least we know what to expect. We’d like to maintain some illusion of control and reduce anxiety-inducing surprises or shame-inducing exposure. Lent is a good time to discover that Jesus in our Circle of Hope is a great initiator of the Light that reveals that no mess is too messy.
3. We think we have to have incredible faith to do anything different. I love this story because there is no mention of great faith in the man who is healed. He doesn’t even know Jesus’s name. He just needs some help and he’s willing to have a conversation. When Jesus tells him to get up, pick up his mat (a sign that his healing is complete) and walk, he listens. The story suggests that our healing is more about God’s love and power than about our spiritual capacity to initiate it or drum it up. Maybe we are invited into a conversation with God that will lead us to new places of freedom.
My prayer this Lent is simply for our showing up in that conversation, in that core relationship. I don’t know what will happen or not happen. But I do know that the Holy Spirit does the heaving lifting in our transformation, with just our tiny bits of willingness. Our hunger and thirst and longing helps, if we are wise enough to notice it. It is not our wellness and independence that will help us get into our resurrection this Easter; it is our confession of need and desire for more. We can follow the example of Jesus to be emptied of all but love. Like CS Lewis said, ““Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” If you are displeased at all, you may be in a good position to meet God and get into something new.