It started out as just a joke. In year’s past, when people asked me what I was giving up for Lent, I would say “Guilt”. It was funny because Lent seems a season heavy with guilt. The intensity of the coming storm of Christ’s passion makes us keenly aware of the power of sacrifice.
How could I not feel guilty about how little I sacrifice in the shadow of Jesus who not only gave his young life to the cause, but also became the scapegoat for a people’s sins accepting betrayal, shame, scorn and torture? His friends turned tail and ran and his people’s hearts turned cold against him. What could I sacrifice that wouldn’t seem a trifle compared to that?
The only thing I could give is everything. Re-dedicate all that I am and all that I have to my Lord. How could anything less be acceptable? Still, a seasonal gesture in this Lent of 2009, could act as a daily reminder of where my compass points. So, this year I am seriously trying to give up guilt for Lent. It’s harder than it sounds.
For one thing, I seem to generate guilt in others. Just the sight of the Holy Man in the street or grocery store reminds folks that they’ve been shirking their religious duties. How many times a week do I hear “I’ve been bad – I haven’t been to church in a long time.” as if I’m the one who’s handing out gold stars for attendance.
I try to tell people that I’m not in the guilt business – but in the freedom-from-guilt business – but they just laugh at my little joke not realizing that I’m totally serious.
What kind of life are we presenting to Jesus? If I come to the altar out of duty, performing for the eyes I feel on my back – does that serve the spirit of Jesus song? If I give to the church and to the poor and take my turn at kitchen duty because the pleas for help make me feel guilty – am I dancing to Jesus’ tune?
Peter asks Jesus “Lord, how many times will you forgive me? Seventy-seven times?” Jesus tells him a story about the man whose great debt was written off by his Master. But then he couldn’t find it in his heart to forgive himself the small debts he owed to others. The Master was insulted that the servant couldn’t match his grand gesture even in a small way.(Matthew 18)
When I focus on my mistakes, when I focus on my debts, when I focus on the guilt I feel about them – how can I be truly present to Jesus walking towards me on the street? Jesus went to a great deal of trouble to free me from the burdens of yesterday. That freedom isn’t for tomorrow – when I finally become “good”. Unless I am free today, can I fully present myself to today’s opportunity to share who I am?
If Duty is a good workmate – helping to keep me on task, never sleeping, always waiting with a to-do list longer than the day. Then Guilt is his Guard Dog. Guilt is a big mean German Shepherd – always hungry. It snarls showing teeth beneath curled lip – threatening the bite of shame I remember well. It’s bark wakes me in the night with things undone, unsaid, badly fumbled, needing apology and explanations. In the morning Guilt snaps at my heels making me jump to it – for sure - but I’ve got one eye over my shoulder trying to stay two steps ahead. It’s a very distracted way to walk.
So, during Lent this year, I greet each daybreak by checking in with the ever abundant source of freedom. I am reminded that I am made of the same stuff as the full moon, trees and melting ice. The two ravens in my yard – Hekyll and Jekyll – transform yesterday’s compost into the energy to fly today. And Jesus fills my pockets with dog biscuits called Grace – more than enough to keep Guilt fed and trotting beside me – obeying when I tell him to sit down and be quiet - so I can pay attention to what greets me in eternity’s now.