After weeks in my shopping cart, a new duvet and duvet cover will soon be on their way to me. I bought them for myself both out of need and in celebration of Lent.
For most, Lent is a time that something is intentionally sacrificed. Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert in a time of, well, we don’t actually know much of what he was up to, really, but we have somehow interpolated from the very little information that we do have that it was all terrible the entire time and furthermore that we are supposed to, in our own little ways and for our own little 40 days, be a bit miserable – wait a minute. Are you beginning to see a problem, too?
I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t doing some Really Big Thinking and Metaphysical Gymnastics in that desert or that in our own lives there isn’t a time to give serious consideration to our life practices.
When it comes to self-denial I’m good. I don’t need to prove anything to my neighbor, to my community, and certainly not to God by denial of self — not anymore.
See, I take just as seriously the second part of the oft-cited passage that I was taught as a child, and that you probably were too, that I should do unto my neighbor what I would do for myself. This saying, called the Golden Rule in Christianity is not exclusive to Christianity, of course, but pops up in most religions and philosophies.
It takes for granted that everyone has as easy a time doing for ourselves as we do others. It presupposes that though I would take an hour to leave my house and go get a blanket for someone who needed one, when my own duvet, the thing which keeps me warm each and every night, had less than thirty feathers left in it, I could not follow through with the purchase without significant guilt.
I have some work to do, and I am not alone.
What’s more disconcerting is this: I don’t remember learning this pattern of thinking. I never sat down as a young child to an adult telling me “Jesus loves you more the less you care for yourself.” It was never explicitly stated to me. I somehow got this message in dozens of implicit little lessons from very well-meaning, loving people who would never have said such a thing to me outright. People who very likely believed such things for and about themselves.
And because as a pastor and part of a community I model what it is to love others and myself in a way that is appropriate and Scriptural, I have to do otherwise. I have to wrestle with this notion and fight against it until it is no longer something I carry with me and run the risk of implicitly believing about myself and modeling with my actions to others.
So for Lent I’m doing something wildly uncomfortable for me. There aren’t many things I could give up that would be really painful to me. What is truly uncomfortable to me is luxury, even the practical and calculated applications. The duvet and the duvet cover, for instance, I had known were coming for months and had budgeted accordingly. And so, in the spirit of Lent I took one of the original selections back OUT of my shopping cart and found one much more beautiful.
It is Lent, after all.