Formation

A Parable for Lent

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There once was a woman who had come to know Jesus as a teenager. She genuinely experienced God’s forgiveness through the cross of Christ. She turned her life completely over to God.

New Faith

The immediate fruit of her conversion was evident. Her life was truly transformed from the way she once lived. And she continued to grow and mature as a follower of Jesus. God felt very near to her. She was full of energy and fervor for God’s kingdom. The movements of the Spirit in her life were palpable. She prayed frequently – studied scripture – served her neighbors.

This was all genuine and good. She took her faith seriously. She was certainly not a “consumer Christian.”

God Grows Distant

But as the years went by, the sermons got more familiar – the podcasts from famous Christian preachers less stirring – God seemed more frequently and increasingly distant. Doubt occasionally crept into her heart. And while God had truly, radically changed her heart at her conversion, there were areas of her life – places of brokenness – that continued to persist despite her longing to experience change. Her once vibrant faith felt increasingly dry and lifeless.

Even more frustrating, she could not explain why this was happening. She did not know how to relate to the angst and fear nestled quietly in the depths of her soul – to the residual guilt and shame in the corners of her heart. She did not want to become resigned to this place of dryness like she had seen so many other Christians do – who, because of the burdens of life, find it easier to hit cruise control – to name the dryness as normal and paper-over it with a layer of religious niceness.

The Excitement of Discipleship

But one day a new world of spirituality was opened to her – the world of spiritual formation and discipleship – with a closet full of spiritual disciplines that have characterized the lives of the faithful for several millennia: contemplation, solitude, fasting, serving the poor, silence, simplicity, liturgy. New books to digest, concepts to master, prayers to pray, liturgical seasons to observe! A treasure trove of sacred practices that would surely take her deeper than she had ever been – that would surely breathe fresh life into what felt like dry, dead bones.

So she jumped-in headfirst.

Truly I tell you, although those spiritual disciplines and practices are good and necessary, they do not bring new life.

They do not, on their own, have the power to relieve the burden of spiritual dryness. When obedience becomes a technique to fix our anxiety and brokenness, it is nothing more than dependence on the self – not on Jesus. No matter how ancient, good, and helpful these practices can be, when we enter into them thinking that they will fix us and make us better Christians, they will only ever lead to moralism and spiritual death.

If we enter into discipleship practices thinking it will fix us, they will only lead to moralism. Click To Tweet

Avoiding God Through Lent

During Lent, I need this parable. Too often I enter into Lenten disciplines having never learned to trust God with my brokenness, in the midst of the tension. This is a great danger. Lenten disciples can actually be tools for avoiding the very places where I need God’s grace the most: my guilt, failure and shame.

When I reach the place, as I often do, that this women reached, I cannot continue to run from, avoid, or fix my dryness and brokenness, even if that running, avoiding and fixing comes in the “holiest” of packages. The best thing I can do this Lent is learn to embrace my dryness and brokenness as God’s gift to me. I can do this trusting the good news that God wants to take me on a journey deeper into his love.

The best thing I can is learn to embrace my dryness & brokenness as God’s gift to me. Click To Tweet

This Lent, God wants to take me down – as a wise man once told me – the most loving take-down I’ve ever had. Will I surrender to him today?

 

[Photo by Moyan Brenn, CC via Flickr]

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