I know that the title of this seems to have some Captain Obvious vibes, but stick with me for a bit.
We don’t like hard things. Humans (specifically Christians in this context), especially in western culture, avoid thinking about, doing, and saying anything that pierces the surface of difficulty. It makes sense. Why would we run away from the things that produce instant endorphin and dopamine production? This last year has made it difficult for us to have the continuous influx of “happy” and “rainbows” we force ourselves to be used to. We’ve had to face the concept of critical thinking. We’ve had to face the concept of controversial ideologies. And we’ve had to face, well, ourselves.
And I think we should sit with the “hard” for a little while longer to recognize its reality.
Today is Ash Wednesday, and what better day to start a “hard things” conversation than the first day of a 40-ish day fast?
Last year was the first year I went to a liturgical Ash Wednesday service, and it wrecked me. During that hour, I confessed sins I’d never faced because they had become so engrained in my daily life. During that hour, I was forced to face my mortality. During that hour, I was gut-punched by the recognition of my own faith complacency.
I’ve thought about that service every day since. And I wanted to encourage you to maybe let this season be one where you invite the “difficult” to be a part of your daily life. Lent is a season of sacrifice and reflection to honor the days Jesus spent prayer and fasting in the desert. None of this experience was easy. I’m sure none of this experience was fun. However, that experience of sacrifice and time alone with God was Jesus’s tool to defeat Satan’s advances.
Some practical ways to “do the hard things” this season include:
1. FASTING – Again, obviously. What gives you comfort or distracts you from daily life? What do you run to in order to bring that “happy feeling” instead of time with God? Fasting is meant to be felt. To be quite honest, it’s not a fast if you don’t recognize its absence. I can’t fast from video games because I think I play my Super Nintendo once every other month. But, I CAN fast from dairy products because I get a lot of comfort and happiness from food.
2. FORMING – Our opinions, worldviews, and ideologies are ultimately founded in our view of scripture. Many times, we can find our thoughts on certain important principles to waver or be as holey as swiss cheese because we don’t have the foundation we need to properly form those thoughts. Examples include:
a. Admitting Wrongdoing – The Church has made a habit of pushing sin under the rug instead of acknowledging what happened and repenting/restoring that person(s). This stems from our loosely held view of sin. What does God really think of sin? Does God say how to react after sin? Does God say how forgiveness works? Can someone be in leadership after certain types of sin?
b. Human Superiority – Are there levels of humanity? Well, no. But, sometimes we treat people who have different abilities, skin colors, education, or body parts as lesser than. And while basically everyone would agree on the objective statement that all humans were created equal, our words and actions reflect our real, raw, rooted thoughts on that.
c. God’s Provision – Does God really desire for us to be happy, healthy, and wealthy? Or does he desire for us to be holy and humble, making the most of what we have? I mean, that answer might seem like a no-brainer, but considering many pastors make millions telling people that God wants them to be rich, this might be one you search scripture for yourself.
3. FEASTING – Okay, I was just talking about sacrifice, so why am I bringing up feasting? In some liturgical denominations, Sunday is the day of “feast” where you can indulge on the thing you’ve been fasting from. OR you can adopt a new practice that will complement your fast. For example, if you fast from social media because of all the negativity, maybe make your feast to send encouraging cards to those you love. If you fast from something food related, maybe try a new exercise!
While you may not experience the “warm and fuzzies” with these practices, this is part of a long game. When we do things that are difficult, we can adopt practices, habits, and thoughts that bring us more permanent “joy” than fleeting “happiness.”
If you need a partner, let me know! You don’t have to do this alone.