Downward Ascent: What I’m Giving Up For Lent

hiking downhill three people
“I have found only one religion, the dares to go down with me into the depth of myself,” wrote GK Chesterton. No other religion dares to take me down to the new beginning. Hence Lent is not a … long brooding over sin. Lent is a journey that could be called an upward descent, but I prefer to call it a downward ascent. It ends before the cross, where we stand in the white light of a new beginning.
—Edna Hong, Bread And Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

I had no ashen cross on my forehead when it all went dark. But I had been thinking about “what to give up” for Lent.

I’d slogged home with my son through an ice storm, and we had just finished our taco salads. Then I retired to the bedroom for Zoom meeting with some writer friends when, halfway through, my little square went black. At 7:34 on Ash Wednesday night the power went out.

We have had lengthy power outages before, but not in the dead of winter. This time I did more reflecting on my mortality. Thinking on our mortality is a good thing, and a lenten thing to do. It was made easier by the chill of winter and the smell of burning hair that night.

That hair was my hair.

I had knelt bedside, beside the candle, for my lenten reading. Clearly I need more practice reading by candlelight. Becaese there was some singeing. Suffice to say, I smelled my mortality and felt God’s mercy Ash Wednesday night.

Closely related to our mortality, I think, are our limits. We are both subject to death and bound by time.

Don’t Buy The Lie

Mom asked how I was feeling today. She meant physically. I answered otherwise. I asked for prayer to accept my limits. And she reminded me of the lie that she knows I too often buy: I don’t have time to do everything I’m supposed to do. The truth is I have enough time to do everything God wants me to do.

Our Lord himself accepted his limits during his time on earth. He wasn’t friends with everyone. Jesus did not have dinner with everyone. He didn’t walk and talk with everyone, or heal everyone. But he did do every single thing the Father wanted him to do.

I glorified you on earth. I have finished the work you have given me to do.

Jesus, in John 17:4 (NKJV)

Isn’t that freeing? We have, enough time in each day to do all things God has for us to do. But that doesn’t mean I have time to do all that I want to do. There are so many blog posts and Bible studies and Instagram reels that I want to write. There are so many friends I’d like to get to know better, and so many acquaintances that I’d love to befriend. Bedside are two dozen good books piled high.

Every single night there are unchecked tasks on my to-do list. So teach us Lord, to number our days. Give me a discerning loving heart to know what is best. Give us wisdom.

What does that look like for me this Lent?

My Chosen Fast This Lent

Three years ago I did a 40-day sugar fast. In this post I explained why. Reason number three for fasting was to gain mastery of the things that would dominate me. As in, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). I get an almost insatiable urge to create the next amazing post and I stay up way too late, way too often to do that.

I’ve been mastered by Facebook and Instagram.

Between from dust and to dust, I choose to embrace my limits. I choose to die to the vain things that charm me most. Or at least try to suffocate one or two of them. So for these 40 days of Lent, I choose to set aside all content creation and intoxicating social media apps from 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. and to take a full 24-hour screen-less Sabbath rest.

This chosen fast is a small way to show I trust that God doesn’t need my clever content to make this corner of the world run right, and that I don’t need likes and loves to feed my ego. This is my humbling, chosen fast to remind myself that I am really not all that.

When I go into the depths of myself, I find I’m shallow. I find an Esau who prefers the right-here, right-now tasty stew of shares and comments and likes more than living by faith to hear Christ’s “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Which reminds me of the Servant King, whose face I intend to seek more this Lenten journey.

An Invitation: See How Jesus Serves You At Lent

Pastor and Author David Platt made a comment on Matthew 20:28 —”even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”—that shocked me. I’m still reeling.

But I share it with you now in closing.

Every time Jesus calls us to do something, it is his way of telling us how he wants to serve us. 

–David Platt, Exalting Jesus in Matthew

When Jesus calls us to count our trials as joy, is it so that he can serve us by giving us his joy? When he calls us to forgive those who hurt us, is it so that he can serve us with his love? And when he calls me to lay aside my phone is it so that he can serve me with more of his presence?

Is Jesus calling you to do something, to give something up for his sake—so he can serve you in a new way, this Lent?

I would love to hear about it. Maybe we can compare notes on our downward ascent.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:25 (ESV)

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