Last week I listened to a bunch of interviews about diet and health for those with autoimmune disease. What struck me was that these professionals viewed food, nutrition, and the body with the utmost respect. These doctors respected and believed their patients with all their “crazy” symptoms–and yet their patients had to work really hard to improve their health through lifestyle changes. Soon I will start a diet that is pretty restrictive in most people’s opinions, but with the goal of restoring my health.
And then I started thinking about Lent. Giving up something for 40 days. Should I give up cheese? Chocolate? Wine? Bread? Oh wait-I’m already giving up all those things! Honestly, I haven’t decided what I’m giving up yet. But the “what” isn’t as important as reminding myself what Lent is all about. I think it’s human to approach Lent and giving something up as a means of self-improvement. Let’s just pull out those New Year’s resolutions we only kept for 7 days and try again. Maybe I’ll lose weight if I give up sweets. Or at least somehow I will be a better person coming out of Lent because of my self-restraint.
I will fail during Lent. I like cheese, a lot. And when I’m hungry self-restraint doesn’t sound fun, even if I told God that I’m giving something up for him. And Lent isn’t about me “doing something for God” at all. Lent in the historic church calendar is about sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Yes, it is about looking to the resurrection-but not too fast. We are called to live in the somber days-the mundane days filled with intense suffering. The practice of giving something up reminds me of my weakness, my sin, the intensity of my desires, the pain of this world, and that I must take comfort that Christ still suffers with me, with us. He was tempted as we were-yet without sin. He intercedes for me, even as I break my Lenten promise.
Lent isn’t about “what I’m getting out of it.” Lent is about living-and actually leaning into suffering. Not to glorify it-but suffering exists-it is everywhere. And Lent is a fixed reflective time that calls believers everywhere to see suffering and not run. It is a call to see Christ in His suffering-and not detest that our Savior was one who was despised and rejected. Why again do we worship the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief? That question must be answered anew during Lent.
As I listened to those health interviews, thoughts of health and my body being restored ruminated in my mind. But my diet isn’t a “quick-fix, try-this-for-5-weeks-and-you’ll-be-better.” I will eat this way for the rest of my life. Because my body is broken, yet health is still attainable. I must “suffer” in my restraint for health’s sake. Knowing Christ in His suffering, in my suffering, is for my health. Even when I hate it. Even when I run. Even when I cuss God out when I have to lie in bed all day for yet another day. Yet He is gracious and kind and persistent in his pursuit, even when I close my eyes because His pursuit is too painful to feel.
Isaiah 53:11 “Out of the anguish of his soul, he shall see and be satisfied…” Christ claims me for His own, out of the anguish of his soul. I’m so thankful that He sees through His pain, because so do I. Somehow I am healthier because of my anguish. As I lean towards Lent, it is my prayer for you, and for me that we are brave enough to see from the anguish in our soul. We truly do share in His sufferings.