Thursday, February 26, 2004

coffee, Lent and mercy

Its the season of Lent. So like New Years, only shorter, we decide to make promises to ourselves that we are sure to break. Lent season asks us to give something up for 40 days. Its a 40 day fast of sorts. It is symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ. But more importantly, it is in a way supposed to cleanse us and prepare us for the glorious celebration of Easter.

Why is it that when we try to give up something, we think about it more? It reminds me of legalistic Pharisaism. We try to not "sin", and in doing so we end up obsessing about that sin. In the end, we only sin that much more. Where do grace and sacrifice meet? Jesus told me, "I desire mercy not sacrifice," and yet this is what I do for Lent, I sacrifice. And after all, that statement of Jesus' doesn't seem true. Living a Christian life is sacrifice. In the same breath that Jesus asks for mercy he also asks me to take up my cross and follow Him. Which is it Jesus? Make up your freek'n mind!

But alas, I did decide to sacrifice...if you can even call it that. I am actually embarrassed to call "not drinking coffee" a sacrifice. Its really not. But it should be just hard enough to be annoying and just easy enough to actually do. Isn't that what Lent is about for us Americans? Giving up a comfort or luxury. In giving up whatever luxury we most enjoy, we call it sacrifice. And thus, if we can manage not to indulge in our little piece of comfort for 40 days we somehow can identify with Jesus. I don't know. It seems kinda silly to me.

But I have gotten off track altogether. If I call myself a "coffee drinker" and then I give up coffee, I tend to think about it more. I tend to wonder when I will get that next cup, that sweet nectar of the gods. But if I don't call myself a "coffee drinker" it is somehow different. If I cast off that label for myself then not drinking coffee is pretty easy. I don't need coffee. Why? Because I am not a "coffee drinker."

Sacrifice is difficult when that which I am sacrificing is caught up in my own identity. If it is not a part of "who I am" than it is not so difficult. So it seems that in order to get rid of things in our life which shouldn't be there, we shouldn't just try to sacrifice them. We can't just try to sacrifice. There is a need for new identity. The offering itself needs to be removed from our own definition of our selves.

This could relate to sin as well. Whatever area of sin that is in our life need not be offered up as a sacrifice. Its not so much that we need to stop "doing" that sin as we need to no longer "be" that sin. Our very identity needs to be transformed in such a way so as to not include that sin in the definition. This kind of identity transformation can only happen by the grace of God. As this transformation process goes on in our own lives, mercy must accompany it. We need to be merciful and patient with ourselves. This mercy, once applied to our own lives, will seep out into the world and transform our interactions with others. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

So I guess the best thing to say is not that I am giving up drinking coffee for Lent. What I am actually saying is that I am choosing to not be a "coffee drinker" for the next 40 days (I love to split my infinitives. Whoever came up with the rule that you can't split your infinitives was an idiot.) . And while my identity is in transformation over this Lent season, I will treat myself with mercy and allow God's grace to change me.

And hopefully, by the time I get to Easter, my ability to be merciful would have deepened. And my model for sacrifice will not be 40 days of no coffee, but will continue to be Christ on the cross. My fear is that by the end of 40 days of no coffee, I will only learn that I am grumpy without caffeine and less cool without a mug in front of me.

Father, teach me what you really meant when you said that you desired mercy and not sacrifice. Teach me about dyeing to self this Lent season. And most importantly, teach me about your mercy and grace.


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