When I was 16 someone asked me what I was giving up for Lent. I didn’t have answer I could speak out loud. So many of my friends were giving up desserts, or chocolate, or some other edible treat. That wasn’t going to work for me as I had been struggling with an eating disorder for over a year by then. I did my best to keep my weight just high enough to keep me from being hospitalized again, but no higher. I had essentially already given up all the foods people were giving up for Lent. What I wanted to do was give my eating disorder. I prayed daily that God would take it from me and I could just be healthy and “normal.”
Of course that didn’t happen. It wasn’t that God didn’t want me to be whole. It was that I could not let go of my overwhelming fear to make room for wholeness. Every year at the beginning of Lent, I remember those days. And, truth be told, I still don’t give up anything for Lent. I try, instead, to be mindful of my spiritual practices and let go of those thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that prevent me from being whole. Since I’m being honest, I will say that these are things that I am very likely unwilling to say out loud. This is where our greatest temptations gather power – in our silence.
When Jesus went into the desert, still dripping with baptismal waters and the echoes of “my Beloved” ringing in his ears, he was faced the Tempter. There was nothing silent about those temptations. They could not be ignored or unheard. That which tempts us to leave behind holy ways often fits into those things taunted Jesus so long ago. Food, power, and ego. Who among us hasn’t given into at least one of these things?
We easily forget that food alone does not nourish and sustain us. We need God. We need God to call us beyond the immediate needs and desires of our bodies. We need God to remind us that there is more to life than what we eat and drink. Our value as human beings is not dependent on our bodies. If we are thin or fat, disabled or abled, healthy or sick, old or young, God’s love for us remains the same. For some of us it is quite a challenge to remember that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit no matter what shape we are in. Satan’s promise to Jesus of more bread than he can eat, sounds appealing. Yet, when we remember that food does not satisfy all our hungers, God enters in to nourish our spirits and wholeness becomes possible.
If are among those who are clear about what nourishes us, then perhaps power is what tempts you. It’s understandable. Some of us have not had a lot of power in our lives. There is always someone around to disempower us or to treat us as if we were not among God’s beloved children. We tend to believe that our situation of powerless means that we have no value. So when there is opportunity to grab power over others, we do so without hesitation. This doesn’t do much to fill the achy void within us, though. We think it will, but then we discover that we need more and more power and there is no amount of power over others that will satisfy us. Like food, power is a demanding god just waiting to consume us. Yet, when we recognize that power over those around us does not satisfy our desire to be seen, heard, and valued, God enters in to affirm our worth and the possibility of wholeness grows.
Perhaps neither body issues nor a desire for power lures you away from God’s ways. Then you might be among those who tend to think we are self-sufficient, that we do not need God or anyone else. Our own egos can be demigods for sure. We’re good. We got this. There’s nothing we cannot do when we set our minds to it. We don’t need to ask for God’s help. We don’t need to ask God or anyone else for forgiveness. We overcome the obstacles our past; everyone else should be able to do the same. Usually, we end up falling off our self-imposed pedestals or becoming completely overwhelmed by all the things we’ve taken on. Our own sense self-importance or self-sufficiency will lead us far away from all that God desires for us. Yet, if we acknowledge that we alone are not enough to fill the emptiness within us, then God enters in and makes way for healing and wholeness.
The story of Jesus facing the Tempter in the wilderness is an invitation for us to face all the tempts us away from God and wholeness. If you want to give up something for Lent, try giving up something that keeps you from being whole by intentionally strengthening those practices that bring hope and healing into your life. Also, to whatever extent possible, name your temptations out loud in the presence of another person to lessen the power of the demanding gods in your own life.
Blessings on your journey through the desert, the wilderness, the barren places, the pain-filled places, the wild and untamed places.
RCL Year C – First Sunday in Lent – March 10, 2019
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16