Tonight I burned the bacon.  The charred remnants smoked and bubbled in the skillet as I did my best to quickly turn down the heat, move the pan, and turn on the overhead vent—all while trying to avoid starting a colossal grease fire.  The smell was intense, greasy and heavy, hanging in the kitchen just above my head as I continued my clean up efforts.   After a few minutes, though, thanks to the miracle of sensory adaptation, I didn’t notice the offensive odor any more and went on with the business of making dinner.  After dinner we headed out for a walk.  When we returned home the odor assaulted us once again with full intensity.  To me, this is what Lent is about.  “Lent is about bacon,” you ask?  No, lent is not about bacon (although I bet more people would participate if it were.) Lent is about awareness.  And focus.  About removing distractions.  Walking outside in the fresh air so that you can recalibrate your sense of smell.

As Christians, we live in a world for which we weren’t designed.  We groan and long for eternity, for face-to-face life with Christ and for the alleviation of suffering and pain. But as we trudge through life, we are easily distracted, tempted to anesthetize ourselves to those eternal aches and pains.  We adapt.   We accept that this is life. We get accustomed to pursuing our earthly agendas, the things we can see. We grow numb to the sin that parades itself around in front of us and inside of us. And Lent is our chance to corporately examine the “sensory adaptation” that naturally occurs as we live in this polluted place.

 

Enter the traditional Lenten disciplines: prayer, fasting and charity.  Many think of Lent as a time only for penance and giving up a vice.  But the purpose of Lent is not limited to removing sin from our lives, although repentance plays an important role.  It also includes separating ourselves from the good and perfect gifts of God in order to sharpen our consciousness to him and his movement in our lives and our world. To identify, in our own miniscule way, with the sufferings of Christ.  This is where the discipline of fasting comes into play.  Physical hunger can do wonders to sharpen the senses, but so any number of other restrictions.  For me, silence does the trick every time.  A “fast” from having the radio on in the car or the television on brings me to my spiritual knees, forcing me to recognize my dependence on background noise.  The silence provides space for God to walk around inside my head and my heart.  To graciously reveal my sin, but also to change my focus.  He points me away from my obsession with my own journey and destination, and redirects my focus onto himself and his plan for the world. 

 

This leads to the third element of Lenten discipline: charity.  As we separate ourselves from the world and its pleasures through fasting, we begin to see the world as the Creator sees it.  We see a magnificent creation, marred by sin and misuse.  We see the hearts of people, made for intimacy with the Father, separated and broken.  We see poverty, injustice, hatred and the plight of the lost around the world.  As we see these things his way, we are drawn away from the building of our own kingdoms and compelled to participate in the building of his kingdom and fulfill our call to seek it first (Matt. 6:33).  Giving charitably and sacrificially is the natural next step.  

 

This Lenten season I’d like to move toward a fresh focus and renewed senses. Senses that are not dulled by the world around me, but heightened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, free to work in me.  Instead of spending my prayers asking God for my fair share, I want to ask him to bind up the broken-hearted and to provide for the hungry.  Instead of spending my time pursuing my own pleasure, I want to make time to be the hands of God to someone else.  Instead of being numbed and mesmerized by the fallen world around me, I want to be aware of and motivated by God’s purposes for transforming and redeeming it. 

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