Monday, February 23, 2015

Jesus, Lent, & Diet Coke

 I didn't grow up observing Lent. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and Lent was "WHAT THE CATHOLICS DID." I went away to college and began to study church history (my degree is actually in History, so this wasn't just a passing freshman history class.) I realized that the church fathers observed Lent as a preparation for Easter much like Advent was for Christmas. It didn't become a means of grace to some until much later. 

So about eight years ago, I began to observe Lent. I've had a few people (okay, lots) ask me what I mean by "observe Lent." As in, what do I do? I haven't always done the same thing. There were many (misguided) years that I simply abstained from something that I liked. The usual suspects - sweet treats, Diet Coke, caffeine, health food. Not true to that last one. I think one year I even gave up lip gloss? I mean, like I said, I didn't always observe Lent in the most meaningful way. I've grown as my understanding of Lent has grown. 

I now choose to abstain from something that I like, as well as do a Lent devotional (I have enjoyed using this one.) My goal in abstaining from something I like is to remind myself of my weak will apart from Christ. The last two years, I have abstained from Diet Coke. (As an aside, please do not send me links about how bad aspartame and Diet Coke are for my health. I realize this. But I like it. So I do not stop. Heaven help me.) I don't drink coffee, except recreationally. My main source of caffeine is Diet Coke. So at some point during the day, I generally drink it. It gets rid of any headaches, as well as puts a little pep in my step. So giving up Diet Coke for Lent doesn't just involve not drinking pop while I'm out to eat at a restaurant. It also means forgoing my daily allotment that makes my world go 'round. 

I'm still in the throes of withdraw. I actually muttered to myself yesterday, "Jesus isn't better than Diet Coke." Yikes. Heart condition, people. I'm not going to pretend like I'm a super-Christian who never struggles with an addiction (yikes!) That is not true. I am a weak-willed individual. I can't make myself be good enough. Jesus took the punishment for my inability to be perfectly righteous. 

It's at this point that I have had people ask me, "so if you believe that Jesus took the punishment for your sin and inability to be perfectly righteous, why do you observe Lent? It's not a means of grace, so why not enjoy the freedom you have in Christ?" 

As Easter approaches, and the Church celebrates Christ's resurrection from the dead, I have been helped in my appreciation of Christ's sacrifice by realizing my own weakness and insufficiency. I generally do not make it through Lent without partaking in whatever I said I'd give up. And to me, that's the point. I couldn't ever be "good enough" to go to heaven. I cannot even abstain from something for 40 days without "cheating."

I needed Jesus. Me. Not just you- me. I haven't always owned my need for a savior. I spent a lot of (self-righteous) years like the Pharisees. Everyone else was the problem. Everyone else needed Jesus. 

No. I needed Jesus to deliver me, even from that self-righteousness. 

And He did. 

So Lent is a time of reflection on that for me. A time to remember a deliverance from self-righteousness and arrogance. A humbling of sorts, when I realize how weak my will to "be good, do better, try harder" really is. 

Philippians 2:12-13
So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.

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