This afternoon, while watching my two year have a melt down because one of his toys had broke, I was reminded how foolish I can be when I don’t get my own way. Earlier in the week I had thrown my own version of a temper tantrum (that didn’t involve thrashing or crying or throwing things, although that would have been funny) when someone made a decision I wasn’t very fond of. Their decision threw me off - it was unexpected and somewhat discouraging. My first reaction was to tell them how disappointed I was and to try and get them to change their mind.
It becomes easy for us to think of Lent as a season where we try to take control of our lives - especially when we are giving up things that we really love and enjoy. We know we should spend more time with God, so we cut out television to "whip ourselves into shape." Or, we know we rely on too many things for comfort, so we give up coffee in order to feel a deeper hunger for God. It can easily become about having enough will-power to stay in the game and not give into temptation.
But I can’t help but feel that Lent is less about trying to gain control over our bad habits and character flaws and more about learning to give up complete control to the One who longs to transform us into his image. It's a subtle difference on the surface, but a big difference in the posture we take in seeing transformation happen.
The posture we take when we are trying to gain control entails hovering over it, taking it by the reigns, having power over it. It is active and sometimes aggressive. On the flip side, giving UP control implies becoming lower, humble, vulnerable. I imagine being on my knees, hands stretched open, at the mercy of someOne else - waiting, listening, allowing something to happen in me instead of making something happen in my own strength.
It is a natural reaction to be upset when things don’t go our way or discouraged when we ourselves don't act the way we expected we would. It is natural to feel hurt and angry and upset in some way. But where do we go from there? We will take the take-it-in-our-own hands, will-power approach? Or, will be get on our knees and let go, trusting that God's love is fully transformational?
“To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude towards life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God moulds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that the new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.” – Henri Nouwen