Lent=sin talk and that’s no fun. When it’s not done well it can lead to some unhealthy beliefs. I have often found myself needing to rediscover grace and re-examine the use of shaming in my faith development. This has often been incredibly freeing and life-giving. I am convinced this has been a necessary process. The problem then comes in the discernment of moments of true brokenness that need attention, not dismissal. I have so rejected the shame that I have forgotten how to both talk about and identify sin. Many a someone told me “once saved, always saved” so I forgot that my wretched heart still needs saving. That my sin is still sin, and it is ugly. So where does that leave me?
Nadia Bolz-Weber, ordained Luthern minister and author of Pastrix, writes, quite oppositely of me:
“I love to talk about sin, which makes little sense to people who want to label me as a liberal. I think perhaps that actual liberals equate admitting we are sinful with having low self esteem. And then the conservatives equate sin with immorality (only some times do sin and immorality converge). So one end of the church tells us that sin is an antiquated notion that only makes us feel bad about ourselves so we should avoid mentioning it at all. While the other end of the church tells us that sin is the same as immorality and totally avoidable if you are just a good squeaky clean Christian. But when sin is boiled down to low self esteem and immorality then it becomes something we can control or limit in some way rather than something we are in bondage to. The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self. I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me. Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it.”
When we deal with sin in terms of these two polarities that seem to beckon us to chose one or the other, we find ourselves with only one of two choices to make in regards to sin: constant shame and guilt or denial and avoidance. One end denies who we were created to be the other denies who we were created to be. Both ignore true discipleship. Both avoid spiritual discipline.
They leave us with an excuse not to make progress. An excuse to stay put and do nothing. But we cannot be afraid of letting God do the good work in our lives that God is longing to do. As Nadia puts it, I must, allow God to be God for me. Jude Siciliano, a Dominican preacher, writes, “Lent is a moment of grace to wake us up and call us to pay attention to our situation.” I think he’s right. Lent is an opportunity to pause and steady our focus in a way that mere shame about our lives or denial of the truth of our struggle does not. These 40 days of Lent lead us to the cross. They call us to remember who we are, truly are, and ask us to examine once again what it really means to call ourselves followers of Jesus. The best understanding I have of what it means to be a disciple is that we day by day encounter Jesus and put our faith, our beliefs into practice.
I wonder if that’s a little bit of our aversion to Lent. People don’t’ like to practice. At least not things they aren’t good at. Even though we know that’s the only way to learn, there’s some sense of entitlement that says, it shouldn’t be this hard. I rarely use sports analogies, I know it doesn’t work for everyone, and I know they are often used poorly, but I find it unavoidable here. I think this is where my mind goes because it was my first experience in life that required true discipline. If you had encountered someone who knew me, anyone one who knew me , prior to maybe 10th grade when I finally diversified a little bit, they would tell you oh yeah Sharyl, she’s a real athlete. It was the centrality of my identity growing up. I was naturally athletic , but softball was my thing. I lived and breathed baseball/softball. It’s the only thing in my life that I would tell you straight up I was better than the majority of my peers at. Everything since has been an attempt at getting by. You washed up athletics know what I’m talking about. I played for older teams as I got better, I was part of a state championship team, but the funny thing is, what I am most proud of now, is the year between 10 and 11 years of age, and every Saturday expect for Thanksgiving and Christmas week, I got up and went to practice at 8 am and spent the majority of my morning, running drills, practicing fundamentals, all the unglamorous frustrating stuff that you have to do to get better.
Photo by emilygoodstein
Here’s a little aside about youth sports culture. There is subset of parents that want to buy their 5 year olds $300 bats, and 6 uniforms with a throwback jersey. They want to go to all these big ticket tournaments and show off their fanciness. And the worst part about it is their kids are terrible. And they are terrible because they never practice. They just go to tournaments and workshops and buy videos looking for the short cut to success. The winning formula, the elite strategy. But honestly they are bad because they don’t practice productively.
Something about that commitment to just try, commitment to just show up over and over again, to do the same thing over and over again, changed me, not just as an athlete, but as a person. It was the trusting that my coach had my best interest in mind and was leading me on a path to where I needed to go. Even when the results aren’t immediate, and they weren’t, you keep trusting.
I learned that the most important thing I could do was not be afraid of making the mistakes I made last week, and by the same token not being cocky about how good I was last week. It was about showing up today. The work of overcoming self, that is God work.
I want to be clear about that. Lent isn’t a sin management 6 week program and then we are good to go for another year. This entire conversation about practice is pointless without our submission to the work that God is doing. May we be a diligent people whom believe in the steadfast love of our Savior, who keep showing up, keep seeking obedience, one step and a time. May we do this hard work together.
Photo by simonsimages