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What If This Is All There Is?

I was one of those kids who was raised to believe I could do anything I set my mind to. I was encouraged to dream big; the only limit was my imagination. When I watched movies or read books, I saw the heroes as people who I could aspire to be.

I’ve lived my whole life in a culture that has told me that I should want more for myself. From better grades in school and a higher salary at work, my milestones have always been “more and better.”

I’ve incorporated this mentality of achievement into my relationship with God. I’ve assumed that to be a successful follower of Jesus, I’d need to take on more spiritual disciplines, become a better practitioner of prayer, and demonstrate outstanding moral purity. The bar is high, and I’ve tried to meet it at every step along the way.

As we enter into Lent this year, I’m reminded that this spirituality of “better, faster, stronger” is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t about being more and doing more, but rather about having the courage to become less. He must increase, but I must decrease.

That’s a big change in perspective. As someone who is used to imagining the world from on top, Jesus invites me to place myself at the bottom of the pyramid. I’m someone who has been trained to prioritize my own thoughts and feelings, my needs and desires; but this gospel life offers me the exact opposite: I’m to put the needs of others first, and to value love more than fear. I’m hard-wired to pursue pleasure and flee pain,  but Jesus offers a path that embraces suffering as a path to healing the world. If that’s not supernatural, I don’t know what is.

As the Christian world enters into a season of prayer, repentance, and self-examination, I’m asking myself: What if this is all there is? What if life never gets any easier? What if it gets even harder? Am I ready to walk with Jesus down this path that he’s showing me?

I hear that some people give up chocolate, or alcohol, or meat for Lent. That’s always seemed a little silly to me. But this year, I do want to give something up for Lent. I want to give up hope. I want to surrender my aspirations for something bigger, grander, and more exciting. This year for Lent, I want to live this life as if it’s all I’ll ever have – with all its frustrations, doubts, and incompleteness.

During this Lenten season, I want to give up being the hero of the story and embrace what it feels like to be nobody. Instead, I want to focus on how I can bring happiness to the people around me. Especially those who make my life most difficult. Rather than thinking about what’s missing from my wish list, I want to focus on how blessed I am to share this wonderful, beautiful existence with you. I want to be say with joy, “Yes, this is all there is – thank God!”

What are you giving up for Lent?

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  • broschultz

    Having come out of the Catholic Church and close to 40 years of lents I completely forget about lent until I see someone with ashes or someone brings it up as you did in your article. Lent is as far from life in the spirit as you can get, especially for a Quaker.
    As a foodaholic my life is one continuous battle with giving up certain foods. I have found to be successful I have to be listening closely to what the Spirit is saying it’s time for me to give up. When I get it right I’m successful, when I don’t I’m not. Willpower doesn’t work here. God has to lead, I have to be obedient and follow.
    This works in all areas of my life, not just food. In non-food areas I find it’s my attitude that needs adjusting. When I truly understand that by being the least among my brothers and sisters I am the greatest I learn to back off many opportunities to move up the food chain at the expense of someone else and be supportive and use my gifts in the role of a servant. It is only when it becomes apparent that it is my time to take the lead that I do so. So lent is just part of the law to me, and a man made one at that. Life in the Spirit is a 24/7 walk not to be sidetracked by a calendar imposed regimen for this Quaker Though I can understand how it can be worked into someone’s spiritual journey I am afraid that it can lead to guilt for failing to meet one’s goal and even an eventual refusal to try to improve one’s self by repeated failures because we don’t truly understand the role of the Spirit in overcoming the lusts of the flesh. (Acts 1:8)