So, Easter has come and gone. Lent is over, too. That means I can drink coffee again. I guess that’s a good thing? I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about the end of Lent. On the one hand, maybe I should be happy: after all, Easter is a time of celebration, plus I should be happy that I was actually able to refrain from the sweet nectar of the bean for forty days. But, on the other hand, celebrating the end of a fast could indicate that I missed the point, or that I was just white-knuckling it until it was over, instead of learning and savouring the uniqueness and spiritual development and thankfulness that Lent can foster.
As you may have guessed, I learned some things during Lent. This is only the second year that I’ve taken the tradition seriously. Since I’ve spent the last twelve years in a Mennonite church, annual rituals aren’t exactly etched into my spiritual clock. It’s a shame, actually, that the Mennonite tradition doesn’t practice some of the rituals and spiritual disciplines that Anglicans, Catholics, and others faithfully participate in. There’s really a lot to be learned from routine and spiritual disciplines, I think. We tend to write those things off too quickly because of the danger of it all just becoming empty action, but really when we do that we’re just covering up the fact that we don’t have the guts to try the daily office or a prayer book. Because I’m around Christians from all denominations and walks of life on a daily basis at Providence I have come to see these things offer more reward than risk. It’s really great to see how Lutherans, Pentecostals, and others approach Lent.
Oddly enough, the last two weeks of Lent were the hardest. You would think that after almost a month without my daily cup of coffee I would just get used to it and I wouldn’t even miss it. But for some reason the last stretch was the most difficult. Maybe Satan was trying to get me to fail, I don’t know.
One morning on my morning commute I was feeling particularly miserable because of Lent. I allowed myself to wallow in some self-pity, which is never a good idea. It’s so pathetic if I think about it: millions of people go without food for days, and here’s me, the big softie who can’t even manage to go a few weeks without drinking coffee. But it’s so easy to get into that pity mindset and become self-absorbed. Anyways, so there I was, hunched over the steering wheel, staring blearily down the highway, driving to school and feeling genuinely sorry for myself.
As I drove, I was listening to a Bob Dylan album called Love and Theft which I had just bought a couple days before. Just as I started to once again ponder how I was going to spend 75 minutes sitting in a small, poorly ventilated classroom in which other students’ coffee mugs would waft their tempting smell all around me, a lyric Bob was singing through my car’s old speakers caught my ear: “Funny how the things you have the hardest time parting with are the things you need the least.”
Well, let me tell you, never believe that the only music God speaks to His children through is Christian music. That line mumbled by Mr. Dylan went straight to the core of me. It just put everything in perfectly in perspective. I realized right then and there how trivial my “sorrows” really were. It was a divine slap to the face, which God’s children need now and again when they get forgetful. More importantly, I came to see that I was approaching this whole Lent thing in the wrong way. Lent is actually a time of exceeding abundance.
Among other things, that morning in the car I had forgotten that Jesus is a walking, talking paradox. With Him the last are first, the sighted are the most blind, and you find your life when you lose it. The things you can’t part with are the things you need the least. His kingdom runs on different rules than any half-baked system we cook up down here on earth. That’s why Lent doesn’t make sense from an earthly standpoint. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s why less is more, folks. It really is. A pouty, forgetful college student does not live by coffee, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We are sustained only and always by God, regardless of whether we remember that fact or not.
The worst part is that I can’t even claim ignorance on this one. I knew what the right way to approach Lent was before I started. But then I let myself forget it and I slipped back into the wrong way of thinking. But that day in my car I learned a lesson that I won’t soon forget. Less is more. It’s backwards, and that’s precisely why it makes perfect sense.