This post was first published in February 2020. Yep, before the pandemic.
As the Lenten season approaches, I’ve been having lots of conversations with friends about what we’re giving up for Lent. In the past, I’ve given up coffee, sarcasm, diet coke, wine, cake, salty snacks, and wine again. I take the season seriously and I use my sacrifice to solemnly reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. I replace whatever I give up for Lent with prayer. So in addition to my normal morning prayer and devotion time, I spend more time with God at times when I would normally reach for a diet coke, a handful of pistachios, that 3pm cup of coffee, or that 8 pm glass of South African Syrah.
“Social media? Maybe. The movies? Nah. Wine again? Seriously.” I went through a series of things I really enjoy. While I was having the conversation my phone buzzed. Then it rang. Then alerts came in from all my apps. I started my day checking emails, going through all the offers to make me rich and famous in 21 days with hardly any work at all. That day I had teleconferences, video conferences, a face-to-face meeting, and a webinar to close out the day. When it was over I knew what I wanted to give up for Lent. “Hey God! Can I give up people for Lent? Seriously. I need a people fast.”
A few weeks ago my online newsletter was titled “What People Say” and it was all about how to free yourself from the need and desire to be approved by others rather than the approval of God. Paul said it best in Galatians 1:10 “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Exactly! This gets kind of tricky though and we have to be careful. If you’re a Christian, loving people, serving people, and forgiving people is kind of the deal. So…
I got a big fat “NO!” from God on giving up people for Lent. Drats! We’re called to live in community. People help us develop spiritual discipline (especially prayer!) and spiritual fruit. In John 17, Jesus prays for all believers. His prayer “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
As much as the fractured human condition wears on me, my own and that of others, I cannot give up on people. You can’t either. The hardest people to love are the ones that need our love the most. The meanest people need our kindness. The liars need our truth. In times when you feel like you have no more to give, #readyourbible and remember that Jesus prayed for you.