Over the past week, I read a book. This should be a simple statement, but for me it's somehow not. When I look back over my past week, I wonder where it went. For a few days, I totally rearranged my life in order to maximize reading opportunities. I ate at my desk so I could devote my full lunch hour to uninterrupted reading, and one day I brought a change of clothes so I wouldn't have to backtrack home between work and my evening plans and I could get a few extra minutes with my book on a nice park bench. I may have even said no to a social invitation or two because, when it came down to it, all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with my book.
This isn't a unique experience for me. In fact, it's happened at least three times in the past 40 days. Oops.
You see, about 40 days ago I committed myself to spending at least one full, uninterrupted hour with God each day during Lent. I picked one hour because it sounded like enough time to force me to rearrange my schedule. I needed to shake things up, and this "radical" commitment was, I thought, the perfect way to do it. It would look like . . . well, like my other, non-biblical reading turned out looking.
But I failed. More often than not, I said yes to the invitation, or I went to the gym, or I read. Sometimes I just mindlessly watched TV, waving off the voice in my head saying, Remember that commitment you made? Now would be a perfect time . . .
I'm trying not to beat myself up over my Lenten failure—at least, not too hard. Throughout this season, as I've frustrated myself over and over at my inability to do anything of worth, I've kept in mind this great article Christianity Today ran back in February. In it, Mark Galli reminds us that "failing" at Lent is sort of the point, and when looked at this way, Easter "becomes an occasion to celebrate the fact that my self-respect does not hinge on my self-discipline, and that my very lack of discipline is the paradoxical sign of the gospel." He goes on to write, "Indeed, while we were gluttons and prayerless, while we didn't give a rip about the poor, Christ died for us. It's not for the spiritually fit and healthy that he came, but for the unfit and unhealthy. We may be faithless in areas small and large, but he remains faithful through and through."
Hallelujah! The ultimate temptation of Lent, it seems, is to fall prey to the belief that our hope is in ourselves, and our ability to accomplish lofty goals. But then 40 days of struggle and, perhaps, failure, or even better, success, remind us that this just isn't so.
Whether you look back at this Lenten season as a time you drew closer to God by developing a new discipline, or as a season you were reminded of your failings, may you be pointed to the fact that it is only by God's grace we can do anything meaningful at all.