While preparing to ponder the meaning of Lent and how I can incorporate it into my life, I made the stirring discovery that my health journey began exactly 1600 days ago – 40 x 40 days. The more I struggle to connect with God and keep faith on this tumultuous journey, the more I see myself in the scriptures. I find my life, my feelings, shortcomings, fears, hopes, and most importantly, my redemption.
For the record, I did not grow up in a church that observed Lent, so I’m ignorant of the nuances in denominations and traditions. I’m starting with a clean slate – the scripture and my journey. My understanding of Lent is that it commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil, before he started his main ministry, ultimately leading to his crucifixion. Some people observe Lent in preparation for Easter: reflecting on their sin, temptations, penitence, and confession, so they may better celebrate the joy of resurrection. It’s a time when people “give something up” - they abstain from an activity or item of choice to mirror Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. My peers most commonly gave up chocolate, television, or more recently, Facebook. This suffering and removal of distraction is meant to open the heart to God.
While all this is fine – fasting, prayer, and meditation are often prescribed in the Bible – it seems to me that Lent has become just another tradition. In fact, many people outside of religion use it as a time of abstinence for health reasons, self-reflection, and empowerment. Either way, it can easily become self-centered.
The Greatest Commandments
The more I read the Bible, and live my life, the more I realize that our relationship with God is strongly intertwined with our interpersonal relationships. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and that the second greatest commandment is like the first: to love your neighbor as yourself. He said all the law and prophets hang on those two. Not just the first one, but those two! The way we love others is as essential to fulfilling our faith as the way we love God!
In my own 40 x 40-day journey, I have noticed the emergence of these two commandments. While indeed I have grown deeper in my personal understanding and relationship to God, I’ve also become profoundly aware of how this connection changes the relationships I want to build with others: more empathy, care, compassion, a deeper desire to help, and to share this communion. Thus, my work must serve two purposes: to declare the glory of God, as my personal praise and worship of Him, and to extend our love to others, to share the joy. They should both be essential to my mission.
And this is why I want to bring Lent out of the prayer closet, out of penitence and self-reflection, beyond communing with God, and into sharing God’s love, heart, mind, and soul, with our brothers and sisters. I want to see Lent in the context of the prophets’ 40-day fasts in the wilderness, where, though they were often alone, they were being prepared for service to others. Their journeys were not for self-fulfillment; communion with God was not the be-all, end-all of their experience. They were being prepared, not for mere appreciation of God’s gifts, as we tend to “prepare” for Easter, but prepared to serve and minister to their people.
The Preparation of Moses
“Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” … Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
While Moses received from God the new law, Ten Commandments, and instructions for building the temple alone, the purpose was to be prepared to lead the people in proper worship of God, and to go into the Promised Land. He spent the 40 previous years learning how to tend to sheep in the wilderness (Exodus 3:1, Acts 7:30). The story of Moses is not how he was a great, fulfilled, holy man (we often forget he was a murderer, and barred from the Promised Land). It is the story of a man in communion with God and His people. Moses without his service to the community is nothing.
The Preparation of Jesus
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
When discussing Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness, we usually focus on the temptation, and the reason being to defeat sin, to be the perfect man, and to prove both his humanity and divinity. But it was also preparation. Jesus was being prepared for his ministry that began after the 40 days. He was being prepared to lead us.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:17-18
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16
Something about Jesus’s time in the wilderness speaks especially strong to me since Lyme. Mostly because I stopped seeing it as God and Jesus doing their God-and-Jesus thing, and started seeing it as a Me-and-Jesus thing. He spent 40 miserable days with a miserable companion, for the purpose of being a comfort to miserable me.
Preparation for Lyme
And so I ask you to also spend 40 days preparing yourself, not for your own self-discovery or your salvation, but for service. Moses, Jesus, and the prophets did not spend their 40-day trials detoxing and renewing, but preparing for hard-fought battles.
This is the foundation of the L4L Challenge- preparing people to serve and love the Lyme community in ways that can’t be understood from the outside; to allow you to ascend into the smoke and fire of Mt. Spirochete; to lead you into the Wilderness of Chronic Illness and face the temptations of ease, self-fulfillment, and taking ability for granted.
The journey begins February 26.
“I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.” Exodus 3:7-8