Friday, March 25, 2016

My Lent Failure

This isn't my first failing.  Goodness, no. I'm actually a pretty fine failer.  I do it regularly, daily.

I'm also a Lent failure.  

I wonder how many people can relate.

Lent isn't something I grew up practicing. My Southern Baptist roots never sprouted into this row of the religious garden.  We are big on communion and baptism (and potlucks), but Lent is typically left to my friends of other denominations.

A few years ago, however, I became interested in this little four-letter word. Honestly, Lent just sounds spiritual, and I was curious.  I started reading about it and began following a few people who practiced it. That was five or six years ago, so I still only have limited experience.

I'm not a Lent expert, but I know it starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. I know it's meant to represent a time of reflection and repentance. It should ready us for a rich celebration of the Savior. I love that. I love the idea of focusing my mind and heart on Jesus for the forty days leading up to the day we celebrate His resurrection. My wandering mind needs focus.

I also love the representation of sacrificing something, anything, in order to more fully understand the sacrifice of Christ.

One year I gave up sodas. Another year I gave up sweets. One year I gave up buying new clothes for myself during Lent - not even for Easter Sunday.  I know what my Baptist peeps are thinking....."Clearly, she's lost her mind. Buying a new Easter dress is surely the unwritten 11th Commandment. Sinner." I hear ya. 

Every year that I've practiced Lent, I've learned something new. And every year, I have failed. Every year, without fail, I have failed.

This year, Lent caught me a little by surprise. The first day of Lent fell on February 10th, right in the middle of a busy basketball season, and just a couple weeks before leaving for a vacation.  My mind was on overload with needing to get all the things done with normal life. I remember thinking, "Lent already? Didn't I just take the Christmas tree down?" 

Halfheartedly, I decided what I would give up and went on about my day. It was something that I'd tried giving up for Lent before. Tried and failed. It was a good fit for me, so I felt the need to try again.

For this year, I would refrain (sacrifice!) from buying any new beauty products. 

Now, before you laugh and suggest that I please don't give up wrinkle cream, for goodness sake, let me explain. You see, if there's an area where I seriously struggle, it's that of Beauty Product Overload - I'll call it BPO for short. My cabinets can barely shut from all the products I buy and try. Every new jar or lotion or tube gives me hope and unrelenting anticipation of silky hair or flawless complexion. 

Hello, my name is Dana, and I am a product junky.  

I buy cheap shoes and purses on clearance at JCPenney, but I'll break the bank if I think something is going to tame this coarse and curly mane of mine.  My clothes are usually not all name-brand, but my nighttime serum always is, and I spare no expense if I think it'll do what the jar claims.

So for me to give up buying not even ONE product for forty days, well, that's a total sacrifice, I assure you. 

The year I tried this for Lent previously, I made it about two weeks before realizing I was going to run out of my favorite hairspray.  I rationed and scrimped as much as I could but finally sprayed the last drop somewhere around early March. I lasted about three days before hitting the salon for its purchase. I justified that no one needed to see me with unkempt hair on Easter. Somehow, that seemed unholy. Besides the hairspray that year, the only other product I bought was a tube of mascara. There was no justifying that one. I won't be caught walking around with bare lashes. I'm not that righteous.

So this year, I reasoned that this particular fast was still appropriate. I still suffer from BPO and sacrificing in that area would be a good way to focus on Easter. 

Done. Settled. That's what I'll do. Moving on.

Settled....until two days later. 

Let me take a minute to explain a little about my hair

It's wavy, coarse, and looks like every strand has been cut with a bad pair of scissors. To manage it, I use no less than three products regardless if I let it go curly or dry it straight. It's high-maintenance either way I go. 

I get compliments about it sometimes, and my natural response is "yeah, well, it takes a village with this mop, don't be jealous" and I mean it. From wash to wear, it never takes me less than 45 minutes unless I wear it in a ponytail or a bun. "Cut it short," some might suggest. Nooooo. Short is even worse. The waves are uncontrollable and buns aren't an option. 

Because of this, products are my friends. They help me fight the battle, and I'm always grateful to them.

So, two days into this year's beauty-product-Lent fast, I realized I was almost out of a very important part of my curly hair regime. Some of my products are come-off-the-bench role players and some are starters. This particular product was an all-state candidate. I could not go without it. 

I let the thought of going without it distantly roll around in my head for a few minutes. 

Lent. Hair. Lent. Hair. Lent. Hair. Sacrifice...give something up...focus on Jesus...look at all He's sacrificed for's just one's no big deal....I won't go to hell for going to Walgreens later for this...I refuse to be legalistic, good grief.

Finally the day came. I had officially run out of Big Sexy Hair Curl Creme. For a few days I dried my hair straight to avoid the spiritual conflict. And then Humidity made its return appearance to the neighborhood. Those with curly hair know that when we're blessed with a day of low humidity, it is worth the trouble to dry and straighten. But if we choose to flat iron on humid days, its nothing but a waste of precious time and our hair resembles a chia pet gone wrong.

For a couple days, I tried other products, but they just weren't the same. So I gave in. I drove myself to the store and bought my curl creme.....and new lip gloss....and gel fingernail polish....and a new shampoo.

Lent failure. 

So much for my sacrifice. So much for my focus on Jesus and all He's done for me.

"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it...."

I pretty much stink at sacrifice.  And focus.  

So I gave it up for this year. I gave up Lent. I failed so I gave up. I'm a Lent failure.

And sometimes our failing tells us we will never be good enough.

I listened to the failure talk inside my head for a bit. I wondered why I couldn't be disciplined enough to do without one silly thing. Why couldn't I rest my mind on Jesus' eternal sacrifice on the cross and let that thought override my longing for something of temporary value. Why couldn't I go the distance this time. It's just forty days, not forty years.

Lent failure.

And then, my heart heard the words that over-ruled the failing thoughts I was wrestling with. 

"Your sacrifice will never exceed mine. It's ok that you have failed. You're failing proves to you that you need Me. Your imperfection is the reason I came." 

It was then that I grasped the truth that no amount of giving up would ever come close to comparing to the letting go Jesus portrayed on the Cross.

He let go of His very life that I might have forgiveness. He let go of His place at the right hand of the Father that I could experience eternal life in heaven.

He let go, shed and spilled His blood that I might be washed clean of my sin, and my failures.

He came to live, die, and rise because I'm a failure and you're a failure.  

Our failures make us need a Savior. 

It was at that moment that I knew Lent had not been a failure this year. Sure, I had failed, but the purpose of it had not. I was more aware of my own inadequacies and weaknesses. I was more in awe of the One who never fails or gives up on me or gives in to the world. I was more sure that I could never be "good enough" in my own strength. 

He came as Emmanuel, God with us. 
He lived as the perfect and unblemished sacrifice. 
He died in our place so that we might not perish.
And He rose, defeating death and sin. My sin and yours. My failures and yours.

That's the Savior in which I believe.  

Nothing is more important than that belief.
Especially not curl creme.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29

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