Let me say right now that I do not know how (even though I believe He did it) Jesus managed not to cave into any temptation even once in his physical life as a human being on earth. Because in the 40 days of Lent that just happened, commemorating His 40 days and not-giving-into-temptation in the desert, I have had a very hard time giving up what I decided to give up for Lent. By which I mean it was impossible.

Riviere, "The temptation in the wilderness," 1898. (Thanks to my cousin Dave for making me aware of this painting's existence.)

Riviere, “The temptation in the wilderness,” 1898. (Thanks to my cousin Dave for making me aware of this painting’s existence.)

Let’s be honest here. Most of the time, if I’m giving up something for Lent, I pick something that doesn’t actually matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Giving up coffee while working at Starbucks? Is kind of a drag, but it’s almost more like a dare than a spiritual discipline, and if I got up at 3.45 a.m. for an opening shift and sucked down a tall Pike Place one morning, well, I might be miffed at myself for not accomplishing what I’d set out to do, but I’d also know that God was going to forgive me for this lapse of coffee, and so I could forgive myself.

It’s when you pick something that’s actually about real character formation (or, as may happen, it picks you) and you actually fail–multiple times and somewhat glaringly–and not only that, but it happens while you’re in the process of imagining a nonprofit where you’re going to help people deepen their connexion to God (or you really hope you are) … Well, that’s at least one of the times when you find out if you really believe all that stuff you say about your own self being a sinner and Jesus dying for your sins and those sins actually being annihilated by His perfection being strung up on that cross.

I don’t think I could actually be more specific about this if I tried, and anyway, it doesn’t really matter what I was trying unsuccessfully to accomplish during this intense spiritual workout of a Lent. The point is, after the dust cleared of mostly having failed, I realised that maybe that failure–much as I hate ever to admit to having failed at anything–makes the message of Lent, of the Crucifixion, and ultimately of Easter, all the more poignant and all the more essential–as if to let go of it would be to give up on life. The discipline I chose (or which chose me) was not something I could accomplish. I just couldn’t. And it was important. It was about who I am–in relation to God, to God’s people, to myself. But the message of Lent, of the Crucifixion, and ultimately of Easter is that of course I couldn’t. And of course I can’t. That’s the whole reason I need this spiritual character formation in the first place–but I can’t change myself.

Thing is, God can. And God does. And He came down here that Friday those millennia ago, and hoisted my failures and rebellions on His back, and died for them. And then He kicked Death to the curb and sent His Holy Spirit to work with me on the transformation.

There’s probably not too much about this post that makes any sense. I guess I’m just saying I’m grateful for what Jesus did on that cross today, because I needed it, much as it hurts my pride to admit it. And it’s enough, and more than enough, to get me moving into tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, knowing that He wants to make me better–and He will.


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