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Lean In

Ready to quit? Within the internal struggle of surrendering our bad habits and idols, there is an opportunity for honesty that leads to the point of it all . . . intimacy with God.

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the Lenten desert. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for it to be over. Me without my idols looks messy and cranky. The vice I have chosen to surrender to God this season and am now living without has left me wrecked. Sadly, this “thing” has become my comfort over the Comforter. (I have chosen not to name my vice, so we all avoid the comparison game. Instead, try imagining your own vice or bad habit.)  As I lean into the discomfort, without trying to alleviate it with my usual buffer, I find something better is rising out of the mess that is me. Honesty.

This lent, I have caught myself acting out, much like a spoiled brat, longing to indulge in my thing and resenting myself for having given it up. It’s been particularly hard because my son, Caiden, has been home sick with never ending bronchitis for over 5 weeks. That with a steady influx of coaching clients – a wonderful problem – and the usual housework has left me like an addict in withdrawal, sober but really on edge.

Unable to scratch the itch, somehow, I manage to avoid the point of Lent, and opt to look for suitable substitutes instead of my usual poison. I try to fool myself: ‘I’m not breaking my promise to God by choosing to dull the pain with a different distraction’… But who am I kidding?

My breaking point came when I was cleaning, fighting a migraine and had misplaced my glasses. While blindly searching for my glasses, I became so angry and started to vent my thoughts out loud to God that I shocked myself with the venom that spilled out so easily. “Really, Lord? How much more do you want from me?!” (And that’s the PG version.) My sweet husband returning from a walk with our son finds my grumpy face wet with petulant tears, and he hears something banging in the dryer. My glasses.

My husband, unlike my mind drama, does not chastise me. Instead, he mercifully comforts me, knowing that underneath the crankiness of self-hatred is his lovely wife, who is ungraciously grasping at sanctity. It has become clear that my vice has been masking some real resentment.

I want to write that there is a better way to do Lent, and maybe there is. But truthfully, I don’t think so. There is no real way to avoid the pain of living without idolatry except leaning into something better. Easier said!

As a mom of a medically complex child, the isolation and the helpless sorrow of watching my child struggle with one illness after another almost makes vice excusable. Almost, but not quite.

Honestly, that excuse has gotten old and has left me lukewarm at times—I would spit me out if I could! I realize I have been putting on “joy” by pushing down anger and hurt and covering it with vice instead of bringing my hurt to God to heal. This kind of “joy” is a counterfeit for the real thing.

Authentic joy comes not from relief of pain, not even from healing, but from intimacy. Seeking healing without interest in the Healer is simply not enough. Relationship with God, knowing Him, is what completely satisfies the itch of every desire.

But what relationship is without complications?

After reflecting on my outburst, my loving Father mercifully showed me my expression of anger was actually a sign of intimacy. I hope it is! At least I feel comfortable enough to show Him the broken reality of my angry heart. (FYI, this is not meant to condone bad behavior or cursing God.) But, in any relationship there will be disagreements and misunderstandings. Why do we try to polish up our associations with God? Reverence? I don’t think so.

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we can admit that we make our dealings with God transactional. Here, Lord, is my offer of a rosary for my promotion. Or a Holy Hour for healing my aches and pains. Or my quick desperate “Lord, Help me for” … whatever. In our relationship with God, we always want something in return. Please, don’t misunderstand, God, like any good father, is in a hurry to help his children and is pleased when we ask Him for our needs or offer prayers, sacrifices and thanksgiving for ourselves and each other. But when was the last time you sat in your “upper room” and just gloried in His presence? Praised the Lord out loud in an empty room with no one to impress for no reason at all except gratitude for His goodness? Or felt deeply, in the silence of your heart the palpable presence of the Savior? When was the last time you searched for the face of God instead of His hand? I know for me, it’s been a minute.

What if we approached the throne of grace without expecting to receive anything in return? Would you still be interested in the Creator of the Universe if there were nothing in it for you? But what if in simply knowing Him, we receive the best gift ever? A true faithful friend. The goal is not to remain God’s servant but to become His friend. Who needs a friend that does all the talking and taking, but never listens or enjoys the other’s company? What if we could have the relationship God had with Moses?  “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33: 1).

And I get it. To most of us, God is invisible to our senses on this side of heaven, making relationship challenging . . . but not impossible. To be called a friend of God, also like Abraham (James 2: 23), requires something much deeper – trust. But how can you trust God if you are not completely honest with Him? We approach God hiding behind our pretty words and pious rituals, not allowing Him to see our mess as we cling fast to our idols.

Transformation can only happen when we allow Him into the chaos of our hearts, letting our Best Friend see it all. God won’t fix what you won’t show Him. Like a good friend, He doesn’t push His way into your business. God is patient and waits for your invitation.  And when you finally allow Him into the mess, like a good friend, God isn’t embarrassed or critical of your mess. He is there, in the mess, having a cup of coffee with you, enjoying you as you are. And when you are ready, together, your Friend will help you clean up, one mess at a time, laughing, crying, enjoying one another along the way.

Friends, the best kind of Lent is when you are honest.

We bring our idols to our Father and Friend and declare: “I don’t know how to stop, please help me stop!”

And He gently takes them from your hands and brings you into His arms for the ultimate embrace. And whispers “Here I AM.”

And you lean in and exhale.