“I hate Lent!” was the exclamation that came from our almost-six-year-old’s mouth the other night. He was overcome with sudden despair because we denied his plea for dessert. It’s funny that he was being so dramatic; it’s not like this was the first day without sweets. We were three weeks into Lent; but perhaps three weeks was his breaking point.
“I hate Lent!” Ty whimpered. “That’s kind of the point,” my husband replied humorously. I chuckled. Ty didn’t find either of our responses comforting.
I started thinking about the exchange. Ty was “feeling the burn,” so to speak. The spiritual exercise of self-denial wasn’t very novel anymore, and his self-discipline and self-control were waning. For a child, it’s probably equivalent to a weight-lifter at the gym after multiple sets. At the beginning there’s a lot of enthusiasum. The first few reps aren’t bad; they might even feel good. Then fatique sets in…then mental exhaustion, and the thought of one more rep is terrible.
Similarly, when marathon runners have the last 10K of the race to go they experience what they call “hitting the wall.” From what I hear, it’s an intense point of physical and mental exhaustion. They specifically train to prepare for it, and they have a lot of strategies for “breaking through the wall” during their race.
Have you spiriatully “hit your wall” this Lent? Perhaps you gave up something or asked God to work on certain sin issues in your life, but now it’s getting painful and hard. Letting God do the pruning is difficult. But we often make it even harder for ourselves in a couple of ways:
First, we can enter Lent (or any season of penitance or spiritual discipline ) with unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves. We have grand plans for all the things we are going to do or give up, and we often haven’t stopped to ask the Lord what he wants to change in us. We have begun with our agenda, not his. Often the sin we focus on is not the one he is trying to get us to see. Often it is something deeper, some root of sin that God wants to pull up completely. Yet we spent our efforts just cutting back the weeds we see above the ground.
Second, we rely on our own strength to see us through. How do we know that we are doing this? Well, have we asked the Holy Spirit for help, asked for grace? A good litmus test for spiritual pride is whether we ask God daily for strength — “give us this day our daily bread.” I know I’m guilty of this. I must imagine that I’m going to easily leap over that wall when I get to it. But a humble heart goes immediately to prayer, knowing that there is no way she can break through that wall on her own.
Perhaps you have sought God’s agenda and asked for daily grace in the fight, but it is still harder than you imagined. Maybe you’ve hit your wall. The Apostle Paul exhorts us: “…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We break through the wall by looking to Jesus, by fixing our eyes on his suffering for us. He has pioneered the path for our race. He who endured the cross will perfect our faith. Our enemy wants to keep our walls up, blocking our path. So he feeds us false self-knowledge and whispers messages of self-sufficiency. But the author of our faith knows us perfectly and supplies us with unending strength, “according to his riches in glory” (Eph. 3:16). Let us listen to his voice and be carried by his strength.
Original Photo by and (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Own work (Own Picture)) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons