"Open Window, Collioure" by Henri Matisse. By Irina via Flickr.

Lent: An Escape from Images

"The point of my resolution has unfolded slowly: Instead of giving things up, I want to learn to embrace and love what I have."

I was having a conversation with friends a couple weeks ago after School of Community about how difficult it is to give up something for Lent. One friend shared her struggle with the example of abstaining from chocolate. “As soon as I give it up,” she said, “I replace it with something else.” This friend pointed out that she, like so many, has a hard time disconnecting from certain foods or bad habits like smoking or not exercising — or even people to whom she is too attached. And, so often, another unhealthy connection fills the void. I listened and connected to her experience on a level — but on another I did not. I realized and shared that generally I have the opposite problem: I’m too much a minimalist. I can give up anything. At least, I can convince myself I am capable of it.

After more conversation, my friends and I hypothesized that this too-eager ability to disconnect actually has been an exercise in attempted impermeability, a self-imposed standard to treat all things as inessential and unimpactful. Because one day, I may just have to do without the things and people I love, and where will that leave me, if I am actually attached to them? Broken and starting from ground zero. Yeah, no thanks.

As I thought about this, a sentence a dear friend said to me over a year ago at the Mountains and Plains regional diaconia reached into the front of my mind. He said: “The point of life is not to become stronger; it is to grow in awareness that I belong to Christ.” I’ve liked the sound of that sentence since I first heard it, but I never actually paid attention to see if it holds true in what I live. I decided to change that; this meant I had to start contrasting my viewpoint against the claim of this sentence because, ultimately, growth is impossible without friction. And what better time to verify its truth than Lent?

It was the perfect starting point. So, I started by deciding that this Lent I wouldn’t give up anything. Granted, I have been participating in a customary Lenten social media cleanse, but up to this point it’s been more of an excuse to go dark rather than to offer something up, so I feel in some way it hasn’t disqualified my actual Lenten resolution (but maybe even that negation can become offering!). The point of my resolution has unfolded slowly: Instead of giving things up, I want to learn to embrace and love what I have. This has meant loving the friends who occasionally annoy me but always love me—entirely due to the fact that they know they’re loved. It has meant thanking God for my apartment by making it look beautiful instead of complaining about how small and dark it is. It has meant risking vulnerability in admitting to my friends who are moving this summer that I will miss them.

While Lent is almost over, the work has just begun. Already I am grateful for this Lent of non-traditional sacrifice. It has challenged the images I’ve created and opened me up to reality—the reality, the fact that I am taken care of by God, who has given me the gift of a companionship to make sure I don’t forget that I belong to Him.

Liv, Kansas, USA