I didn’t really normally celebrate Lent or recognize it. I grew up in a church that had an Easter service, but that was really it. We never had an Ash Wednesday service that I can remember, nor did we even think much about Lent. Until I learned more about it, I honestly just thought it was something Catholics did, and the only reason we knew it was Lent was because they started serving fish every Friday for school lunch because of those Catholics.
(Don’t be mad at me; I probably also thought only Nazarenes would be in Heaven, too. That right there should tell you that I really didn’t have a clue. I have since become more knowledgeable about things. I am definitely far from knowing everything there is to know, but I know more than I did when I was in high school.)
The last two years since I have been in college I didn’t give up anything for Lent. Last year, I tried to memorize the book of Philippians. I failed. I really only got to chapter two. Which isn’t really so bad when you think about how Philippians only has four chapters, but still. So, this year, I somehow agreed to do Blood:Water Mission’s Forty Days of Water. Not because I really think you should give up something for Lent, but because I believe that I am pretty oblivious to how much I take for granted. I want to somehow become connected to something that would help someone else.
But I failed.
Here’s how it happened. I have a twitter-friend who was planning on keeping me twitter-accountable. And I told myself that I could still drink my morning coffee because, duh, I didn’t even buy that coffee, it was a gift. But, in all seriousness, I do plan on drinking my morning coffee because that is my time where I set it apart for God. I grab my coffee and meet God. If I didn’t take the time to sit down and drink my coffee, I honestly would probably not sit down at all. I rush around in the morning enough as it is, but my coffee forces me to slow down. I had been planning on doing that from the beginning, so that’s not how I failed. Lent is all about repentance, so I just wanted to come clean about that. Nobody likes a hypocrite. (Okay, I’m done defending my justifications. You can judge me if you want. Just please don’t throw stones, I imagine that hurts.)
Anyway, here’s what happened. All day I kept thinking about how I couldn’t drink anything but water. Literally, it just kept going through my mind. You can’t drink that. You can’t drink that. You must drink water. But one of my classes was canceled and so I had all this free time that I don’t normally have, so I resisted going to the library and getting a juice even though I wanted one REALLY badly. But then I found myself in front of the vending machine and I knew that I had my wallet, so I had change. I found myself counting my change… one quarter, two quarters, dime, dime, nickel. I had enough.
I was arguing with myself. If it had been verbal, someone would have taken me and put me in a padded cell. I was telling myself, the devil is not in the Pepsi, God wants what you give up for Lent to let you think more about Him and I’m thinking about him, so duh, that’s the point, so I am not doing anything wrong by wanting to get this Wild Cherry Pepsi. In fact, all I can think about is drinking this pop, so really, that’s worse, so I should just get this pop and promise God that I will think about him even more while drinking the Wild Cherry Pepsi.*
So I found myself putting my seventy-five cents into the machine. One quarter, two quarters, dime, dime, nickel. Only the machine didn’t recognize that I put the last dime and nickel in it. It was stuck on sixty cents. Stupid vending machine.
So then I pushed the button and got my change back and then I reput my seventy-five cents in this time in reverse order: nickel, dime, dime, one quarter, two quarters. It worked. I pushed the button for the Wild Cherry Pepsi. Sold Out, it told me.
Are you kidding me?
So I pushed the button for the regular Pepsi. Ha! Not sold out. So I got the Pepsi and I held it, instantly feeling guilty for what I had done. I failed. I bought the Pepsi. And then I stared at the Pepsi can until my next class started, thinking about how I was convinced that the Devil was inside that Pepsi, which was the only logical explanation for why I failed Lent on the first day.
I mean, the vending machine (a.k.a. God) gave me two chances to stop myself from buying the Pepsi. I didn’t. I bought it. Maybe if I had been given three chances, I would have known what it was like to be Peter denying Jesus over and over and over.** Anyway, I bought the Pepsi. And then I felt guilty about it for about another hour and then I drink it while I was working. Yeah, I know. I could have given it away, but I drank. All of it.***
So that’s how I failed Lent on the very first day.
Which maybe it really the point of Lent.
Lent reminds me that I fail. That I cannot do this without God. That I need God so desperately.
As I walked forward and my Pastor place the ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, I was reminded that I am broken.
Ann Voskamp wrote a post that really resonating within my soul, and she writes:
“It is an irrefutable law: one needs to be dispossessed of the possessions that possess — before one can be possessed of God. Let the things of this world fall away so the soul can fall in love with God. God only comes to fill the empty places and kenosis is necessary — to empty the soul to know the filling of God. But the flesh is corrupt. I can’t do it.”
I am flawed and I fail, but I know that I need strength that only God provides. Lent is about preparing your heart for Easter, for resurrection, for the celebration of life. I feel as though we give up chocolate or coffee because yeah, it is probably a sacrifice, but we don’t do much to prepare ourselves. And I say we because I feel as though that’s the case with me. I walk into the Easter service with a new dress, but without a renewed heart.
Lent isn’t about the legalism, so I know that Devil was not in my Pepsi. But my weakness was in that Pepsi. It was the reminder that I am weak.
“To be strong Christians, we must embrace weakness. It is when we accept our humanity, when we are humbled by our fallibility, when we live vulnerably, that God is strong within us.” -Chris Seay, A Place at the Table
So, I failed Lent on the first day. Tonight I will wash the ashes from my forehead but I will remember that I am dust. I will remember that I must embrace weakness. I must repent when I fail. Tomorrow I will start again.
“Lent gives me this gift: the deeper I know the pit of my sin, the deeper I’ll drink from the draughts of joy.” – Ann Voskamp
*Yeah, I’m so totally holy.
**Sacrilegious? Please read all my words with multiple grains of salt. At least seven grains. That’s holy.
***I am sorry for my over-use of italics.