Church Calendar

Lent Makes Me Annoyed at God

While reading Crime and Punishment last night, I came across a passage that made me realize something about myself. Though I am not a murderer, not being investigated by the police, and have a perfectly clear conscience, Lent is showing me that I am just like Dostoevsky’s character, Raskolnikov. Lent makes me annoyed at God.

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He felt very miserable. If it had been possible to escape to some solitude, he would have thought himself lucky, even if he had to spend his whole life there. But although he had almost always been by himself of late, he had never been able to feel alone. Sometimes he walked out of the town on to the high road, once he had even reached a little wood, but the lonelier the place was, the more he seemed to be aware of an uneasy presence near him. It did not frighten him, but greatly annoyed him, so that he made haste to return to the town, to mingle with the crowd, to enter restaurants and taverns, to walk in busy thoroughfares. There he felt easier and even more solitary.

In this season of Lent, I am slowing down, praying, fasting. But that slowness and focus on God and my relationship with him, is showing me just how like Raskolnikov I am. I would rather feel “alone” by distracting myself, than sit with myself and the “uneasy presence” of my Creator.

Just like this guy.

Just like this guy.

In fact, I am so addicted to activity and accomplishment, that I have to put prayer on my to do list! I need the satisfaction of the checked box to motivate me to get on my knees. And despite that, it’s often the last thing that I do on my list.

In the book, Raskolnikov has to find a bar or busy city streets to distract himself from the “uneasy presence.” I, on the other hand, am amply supplied with distractions, not the least of which is the smartphone in my pocket. It was hard for him to attend to the Uneasy Presence in the 19th century; it’s that much harder for me when the trivial and mundane are a click or a swipe away. In his book, Disruptive Witness, Alan Noble calls this “the practice of continuous engagement in immediately gratifying activities that resist reflection and meditation” (1).  He continues:

Outside of a culture of virtue grounded in an external source, science, technology, and the market have been driven to produce a society that prioritizes the sovereign individual. The modern person experiences a buffer between themselves and the world out there—including transcendent ideas and truths. The constant distraction of our culture shields us from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true. (2)

It is my job to deal with, study, teach, and proclaim “transcendent truths” about the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Yet, I am so used to being distracted (and shielded from “deep, honest reflection”!) that Lent is making me annoyed at the God I’ve devoted my life to serving. 

And yet, I’m encouraged. Because the revelation that I’m annoyed at God is a revelation of my sinfulness. I will scratch and claw and do all that I can to avoid dealing with the God who made me and loves me in Christ. I do that because I want to be a “sovereign individual.” I want to be in charge. The boss. The King.

Not me.

Not me.

But I’m not. And even if the main thing I’m learning in Lent is that I am more sinful than I realized, that will have made it worth it. Because the revelation of my sin is an opportunity to repent and believe the gospel again. It’s a reminder that Christ is a better King than I will ever be; he will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). So far, Lent has been a testament, not to my faithfulness, but to God’s. It’s showing me just how desperately I need his grace.

Slowly, I’m learning to sit and be in God’s presence. His constant, ever-faithful, never-leaving presence should not make me annoyed. It should give me joy, because it’s good news.

Practicing Lent

When you hear the word, “Lent,” what comes to mind? Do you get visions of giving up chocolate or whiskey for a month? Does a picture of a monk—kneeling and alone in his cell, whipping himself to pay for his sin—flash before your mind’s eye? Or maybe you think of someone in your past trying to guilt you into a religious practice that, you believe, has no basis in Scripture?

No chocolate for  how  long?

No chocolate for how long?

I did not grow up practicing Lent. There is not a robust practice of Lent in the Reformed tradition. In fact, if anything, my fellow seminarians (and even some professors) regarded Lent with deep skepticism, recalling Medieval church repression and gospel-less spirituality. The Puritans are, perhaps, the most extreme example of this impulse, eliminating anything that smacked of Catholicism, including Lent, the rest of the church calendar, and even wedding rings. 

Unless you’re a Puritan.

Unless you’re a Puritan.

And yet, Lent is an ancient and longstanding practice in Christian history. It’s roots date to the 2nd century, just 100 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. The council that gave us the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D., also codified the practice of Lent as a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to the celebration of Easter. And as I have sought simple, everyday, embodied ways to practice my faith in Christ Jesus, I have been drawn to ancient seasons and practices, like Lent.

Practicing Lent

I want to share a few things I’ve learned about Lent along the way, link to some helpful resources, and invite you to celebrate Lent with me, beginning this Wednesday, March 6, and culminating on Easter Sunday, April 21. I hope, rather than some of the extreme, weird, or legalistic images you or I may have in our heads, that we can put in their place how our ancient church fathers and mothers viewed Lent: as a time of repentance and renewal.

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Rather than a time of earning forgiveness, according to Prof. Fred Grissom, Lent was a preparation for celebration: “Early Christians felt that the magnitude of the Easter celebration called for special preparation. As early as the second century, many Christians observed several days of fasting as part of that preparation.” Scholars believe that the special time of preparation may have been practiced first by new converts to Christianity in the lead up to their baptism on Easter Sunday. The 40 days had biblical significance, hearkening back to the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and especially the 40 days of fasting that Christ went through after his baptism (Matthew 4:1-11).

Historically, Lent has been a practical way for Christians to remember that resurrection only comes after crucifixion. We hold a privileged position as the adopted children of God to identify with our Older Brother, Jesus Christ, in his suffering and self-emptying prior to his exaltation as Lord of all (see Philippians 2:5-11). We have the mind of Christ, a mind deeply shaped by suffering and costly obedience.

That said, Lent is NOT required of any follower of Jesus. No one should be pressured or forced to conform to a practice that, while historic, is not commanded in Scripture. Christ alone is King of our conscience. 

At the same time, communal practices like this can be a great help and encouragement to us as we deepen our pursuit of Christ in all areas of our lives. That is why I am, for the first time in my spiritual journey, going to practice Lent this year. And I’d be happy to have you join me if you feel so called. 

Resources

If you’d like to learn more here are a few resources to help you go further. If you’d like to talk, I am always available!

  • Myths about Lent abound. Here are some answers to Protestant myths about Lent.

  • The Liturgy Letter has music (Spotify playlists!), prayers, and Scriptures to read for Ash Wednesday and the first week of Lent.

  • We shared this guide to the Christian calendar, Seasons, from the Village Church during Advent. Their resources for Lent are excellent! It includes things like a reading plan, songs, prayers, family discipleship suggestions, and possible things to fast from for each week of Lent.

  • Hands at Work has invited partner churches like ours to participate in 40 days of prayer on behalf of the most vulnerable children in Africa.