Two days. Actually, it was three if you count Ash Wednesday. That's how long my 'cold showers every morning' Lenten sacrifice lasted one year in college. Fortunately, like I did every year, I decided to play it safe and give up about 10 things so I would still have something to show at the end of Lent when I had failed 8 or 9 of them.
Then a few years ago, I decided it was time to grow up. I needed to pick something tough to let go of, something that I would really miss. I was going to just pick one thing, and I was determined to survive all 40 days of Lent (and the Sundays). Easter was going to be glorious. I guess Easter was already pretty amazing, with Jesus conquering sin and death, but it was going to be even more memorable once the world knew that I was set free from my Coca Cola habit.
Who is Lent About?
That's how Lent became all about me. Sure, I was praying a little bit more than usual, but the big focus of my attention was the fact that I was making a big sacrifice and I wasn't going to fail like I had so many times before. I had made it to Holy Week, and I could almost taste the sweet carbonated victory that awaited me.
Then it happened. In a moment of weakness and stress, I found a Coke and failed my annual challenge once again. I was really frustrated. This was supposed to be the year that I finally got it right, the one Lent that I could finally prove to God and to myself that I could do it. I spent a day or two so frustrated that I couldn't bring myself to pray. I couldn't face the God who suffered and died for me when I couldn't give up a freaking soft drink.
I’m a Sinner
Then it finally hit me. In my attempts to prove to God that I could do something for Him, I had forgotten what Jesus' journey to the cross was all about. Romans 5:8 says, 'but God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.'
Lent was never supposed to be about me proving anything to God, it is all about me growing to accept the fact that He loves me even when I fail, even when I feel the most undeserving of His love. Jesus didn't come to earth to congratulate me for my accomplishments, He came to suffer, die, and rise because He knew I could never accomplish anything on my own. As Saint Paul said, the hope of glory is 'Christ IN you' (Colossians 1:27). Lent, and faith in general, isn't about what I can do with Jesus cheering me on from a distance. It's all about God's grace working in my heart and my life to do what I could never do on my own.
We’re Hopeless Without Him
My experience of Lent has never been the same since the year of the Coke failure. This year I've actually lasted! (I still have another 2 weeks to go, so I don't want to get overconfident). God doesn't waste any experience; He can bring good out of everything. It's kind of funny that it took a can of Coke to remind me that God's love doesn't wait for me to prove anything. He came to rescue me because He knew I was hopeless without Him.