‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
I suppose that if I am going by the standard of Matthew’s gospel, there is something inherently flawed in blogging about what I plan to undertake for Lent. It’s ironic that on the day that much of Christendom will be walking the streets with visible smudges across their brows that we are given a text that tells us to practice our faith anonymously. It’s almost as if the Gospel writer had no intention of our engaging in such a showy sign of humility.
There is a temptation in all manner of spiritual living, the temptation to think ourselves better than those who have no spirituality; the temptation to see ourselves as further along the path. Days like today fuel the fire of self righteousness. “Look at me! I took time out of my busy day to get my forehead smudged. Clearly I am made of a finer grade of dust than art thou!” Ironically, it is our willingness to succumb to this particular temptation that so often leads to our experiencing the greatest of humiliations. When those of us who have cloaked ourselves in our own righteousness are ultimately revealed to be self-made emperors strutting around in non-existent new clothes, we expose not only our own imperfection, but we call into the question the very idea of spiritual pursuit.
Last Lent, my spiritual discipline was to take a selfie and affirm myself. I’m sure for many it seemed narcissistic, but I was struggling mightily last year with loving myself. While I imagine that will be a lifelong struggle, the practice of seeing the image of God in my own face was transformative for me. This year, my struggles are very different. I share my Lenten practices not as a sign of how pious I am, but as open admission that I struggle and Lent for me is about struggle. We use these forty days to remember the time when Jesus was tested in the wilderness; tested with hunger, tested with thirst, tested with his own mortality, tempted to abandon the life that lay before him. We know little of what happened to Jesus in the midst of the wilderness, but we can imagine that it was a time when everything came into question for him.
I’ll be keeping most of my Lenten disciplines to myself, but I am planning on writing daily throughout the season. And in this space, during this wilderness time, I hope to make this a place of struggle. Not a place of sharing how wonderfully devoted or pious I am. That ship has sailed. I’ve been too upfront about my brokenness for anyone to buy that bill of goods. No, I this is a journey into mortality, deprivation, longing, despair, and utter dependence on the grace of God to carry me (us) out on the other side. This is about bringing light to my shadow side; giving voice to fear, anxiety depression, and doubt. I invite you to journey with me into the dark parts of your soul and to bring to light what we hide even from ourselves. Let us not flaunt our piety. Let us flaunt our broken humanity; boasting, as Paul calls us to, only in our weakness.