In a few hours, people in my little corner of the world will be bidding 2017 adieu and ringing in the new year with hope and optimism. I will always remember 2017 as the year I shrank my life. Contrary to society’s norms and expectations, I walked away from almost everything I used to define my identity for the past decade and came away with some surprising insights about myself in the process. If you’re thinking you need to re-evaluate your priorities and make some sustainable changes in 2018, there might be something here for you. Read on…
I’m giving up Donald Trump for Lent
Let me explain.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season, which for churchgoers—or anyone with a little history of the church—means the 40-day period leading up to Easter.
For those of you who don’t have the benefit of a lifetime of church attendance, allow me to give you just a bit of background. It’s important. Consider this your Reader’s Digest Condensed version.
The history of Lent can be traced as far back at 325 AD when the Council of Nicaea made it a thing. The Council issued 20 some statements or canons for practical faith, one of which included the mention of Lent. Although there had been recognition and celebration of Holy week and Easter in the Christian church long before, it was the council which declared the 40 days beforehand to be of significance.
The background features the Israelites—God’s chosen people according to the Bible—who were given a litany of instructions regarding sacrifice as atonement for their sins. The first five books of the bible (but really Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) read like a detailed instruction manual straight from God to his people. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. Stay in God’s good books. It’s a bit dry. I totally get why people view the church as legalistic.
Today, many churches still observe the Lenten traditions, but it likely looks a little different than it did some 1700 years ago. The idea behind it is this: it’s the life and death of Christ that forever transforms the Christian church. You see, in his death (which is written in the gospels of the New Testament) resides the ultimate sacrifice, which effectively sets mankind free from all the Old Testament rituals that bound them. One sacrifice pays for all the sin. Freedom!
And so, in observing the 40 days leading up to that period of sacrifice, the modern churchgoer attempts to put themselves in the shoes of Christ himself, when he uttered the words “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42 NLT)
In Christian jargon, we choose to die to self. Live according to God’s will, not our own.
For practical purposes during Lent, that looks a lot like sacrificing something we enjoy or cherish. Something that will make us uncomfortable. Some people give up chocolate. Others forego social media for 40 days. I recently heard about a woman who gave up the comfort of her bed for 40 days and slept on the floor. (That’s sacrifice!)
About a decade ago, I tried giving up coffee; it was then—after two straight days of headache and withdrawal symptoms—that I realized how utterly addicted I am. That “sacrifice” ended pretty quickly and although I think about Lent every year, I’ve yet to come up with something I’m willing to give up for that length of time.
But I digress. The actual benefit of Lent is that every time we think about or crave that thing we’ve chosen to sacrifice, it drives us into God’s arms.
To remember that Christ’s ultimate sacrifice was his life. After all, what’s a bit of chocolate compared to a life? It is to cause us to draw near to God, to depend on his strength to get us through the discomfort, whatever that looks like.
I do think there is merit in the perspective that making some sort of sacrifice can offer. I live in a city and country and during a period of time that is pretty affluent and comfortable. My daily life is generally not characterized by sacrifice or going without. When my cupboards are empty, I can go to the grocery store to fill them. When I want to go to that grocery store, I can take one of the two vehicles I have at my disposal. I can load those groceries into my oversized fridge in my gas-heated home with low E argon windows and energy efficient furnace. My life is pretty good. There are lots of things I could give up for 40 days that will cause me a little discomfort; but only a little in the grand scheme of things. (And no, I’m not willing to try caffeine again.)
Recently, I’ve heard people talk about the notion of adding something TO their lives for 40 days, instead of taking away. Things like setting aside daily latte money for 40 days and making donation to a worthy cause instead, or 40 days of random acts of kindness. These are great ideas! They require one to be deliberate in thought and action for a period of time. Over the years, I’ve considered this approach too. But I’m not a super disciplined person, so I would likely buy the latte because I need caffeine, and at the end of 40 days, send a lump sum cheque to some organization, without doing the actual work of sacrifice and reflection and prayer.
And so, as with all the years, this year is no different for me. In the lead up to Lent, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the significance of personal sacrifice and what I could potentially give. Plus, I’ve spent a bit of time reading about the history of it. Probably because I feel moderately guilty that I don’t actually observe it in any traditional manner and I’m trying to justify that the practice is a creation of the church, not actually biblical instruction.
And then, today I had an epiphany.
This year for Lent, I’m giving up Donald Trump.
What could be better for me spiritually than to determine that for the next 40 days, I will not read one news article or click bait that contains the man’s name?
No Jimmy Kimmel or Alec Baldwin, no SNL, New York Times, or Huffington Post.
Instead, every time I see his name in my newsfeed, I will pray for America. (Though I fear this will keep me on my knees more often than not–which is maybe the point.) I think most would agree that they need our prayers more than ever these days.
You don’t have to look far to see the tremendous fallout in that country on the heels of his election. From the outside looking in, America appears to be a country that has never been more divided. And regardless of what I personally think of the man or his agenda, there are some 320 million people south of my border who are now living in a dramatic resurgence of racism, intimidation, intolerance, disrespect, fear, and violence. And that’s not right. Or good.
While Lent is a manmade way of reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice for us, Scripture does tell us to pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2). And so, that is what I’m going to do for these next 40 days.
Wish me luck.
Or, if you’re so inclined, pray for me.
Better yet, join me.
Between you and me, I think this might actually be more difficult than giving up caffeine.