It seems odd to say that I enjoy Lent. Lent is probably not a favorite to win “Most Popular Liturgical Season” anytime soon. But there is something that feels deeply necessary about this season of fasting and penitence, when we are surrounded by a culture of constant excess.
I am not against celebrations. But after the ongoing celebrations of the holiday season, I am ready for the opportunity to observe this quiet season of reflection and fasting. In our culture, we are constantly encouraged to put ourselves first and seek instant gratification. Anytime we feel hungry/sad/lonely/bored we can distract ourselves with our smartphones or grab some food at the drive-through. Taking a break from that, even in a small way — like temporarily giving up chocolate or social media — can allow us to slow down and look to Christ for the gratification we would typically get from the object of our fast.
And what happens when we do look to Christ — when we pray, meditate, or read the Bible but we continue feeling hungry/sad/lonely/bored?
Is it possible that Christ wants us to feel these feelings from time to time?
Is it possible that Christ wants us to feel?
Is it possible that, while living a life of instant gratification and comfort, we have grown numb?
Perhaps we have to sit in the discomfort awhile. Christ was uncomfortable, a homeless wanderer who was betrayed by a trusted disciple, then beaten before being executed in an incomprehensibly painful way.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”
The word excruciating literally means “from the cross.” So then, crucifixion was so painful that it led to a word that now describes the worst pain you can imagine.
Most of us don’t really know what it means to suffer. I’ll never forget when I was studying abroad in the capital city of Ghana. One afternoon, as my Ghanaian friend was attempting to help me navigate the public transportation system, she turned to me and said seriously, “Ursula, we are going to have to suffer today.”
I looked at her confused, and she explained that the bus was not running, and I would have to find a way to walk the many miles home. But I had no idea how to walk home from where we were, and I had no intention of suffering. I didn’t have to — I had plenty of cash. I told her I would take a taxi, and she was surprised I could afford such an extravagance. But for only a few American dollars, I was able to escape a difficult situation.
I will never have to know the suffering of walking home for hours across a polluted African city, dodging traffic and open sewers. I will never know the suffering of the poor in Ghana or in other developing countries around the world, who don’t have welfare or financially stable relatives to turn to.
If I didn’t choose to, I would never have to know even the discomfort of going a day without chocolate or Internet access.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only few find it.
There is something else that stood out to me in Ghana, besides the extreme poverty. It was the deep Christian faith possessed by many who live there and the pervasive sense of dependence on God. Perhaps our comfort and material wealth in America has distanced us from God. Maybe during this season of Lent, Christ is inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him by allowing ourselves to be a little uncomfortable.
Maybe that discomfort will be the place where we finally find peace.
About the Author
Ursula Crawford and her husband Spencer have two young children, and their family enjoys playing hide-and-seek and dancing in the living room. She works as a communications and events coordinator with the University of Oregon. You can read more from Ursula at motherbearblog.com.