This was a piece used in The Spire, a monthly newsletter published by the American Church in Paris. Visit acparis.org for current and past issues.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had the last minute panic over what to give up for Lent. For some of us it’s chocolate. For others it’s alcohol or sugar or some other food we deem unhealthy and tempting. More recently it’s become popular to give up social media, in particular Facebook.
Our practice of self-denial during the Lenten season has its roots in remembering the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. In our self-denial we are constantly reminded of the example Jesus set and the victory Jesus won, while also remembering the cost of following him.
But what happens after our 40-day journey? Chances are we pick up those habits again. We begin eating chocolate. We start drinking beer. We logon to Facebook. In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The New Testament has a lot to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.” In other words, self-denial isn’t about the mere practice of self-denial, but in something deeper.
Perhaps we’ve used Lent as a time for self-denial as an end in itself. What would it look like, then, to truly give something up for Lent? And not only give it up for Lent, but forever.
On the first Sunday of Lent in youth group we looked at the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in the gospel of Luke. Over and over Jesus is tempted by the devil. First with hunger, then with authority, and finally with power.
As we studied this story together one thread that runs throughout these temptations is control. Over and over again the devil is tempting Jesus to take control. When Jesus is starving the devil tempts Jesus with food. The devil then tempts Jesus by offering authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Finally, in what seems to be the most tempting situation of all, Jesus is tempted to show his true power. And why not? If he showed his power to people in commanding the angels to protect him, many people might have come to believe that he really was the Son of God.
Where in your life are you tempted to take control? What places in your relationships, education, or career are you tempted to be the one in control?
We live in a culture that encourages even celebrates the mastery of our destiny. We’re in charge. We’re in control. Nobody else. If we want something and work hard enough at it, we can have it. It seems good enough. In fact in some ways these lessons are good for us as individuals. It is good to work hard for something. It is good to have the hope that we can pull ourselves out of hardship through hard work.
But in the end it’s all about control. Who is ultimately in control?
In effect when we try to become the master of our own fate we are saying (whether consciously or not) we want to be God.
The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness were the same kinds of temptations in the Garden of Eden. The serpent said to the humans, take control, be in charge of your own lives, because you know best.
More often than not in our own lives when we try to make ourselves the masters of the universe we inevitably mess things up. God does not expect control simply to assert God’s authority over us, as deserving as it is. God’s control over our lives is always in our best interest and always protects us, despite our very best protests against the idea and our claims that we know what’s best.
So during this season, our youth have been challenged to give up for Lent. To give up control over their lives. To give up the idea that simply with enough hard work and determination that we can live the best possible life.
It’s a lesson I am learning myself in a deep and powerful way this Lent.
So won’t you join us in giving up for lent?
Because in the end, our giving up control means giving the Creator of the world, who loves us more than anyone ever could, the power to guide and direct our steps toward truth, beauty, and goodness.