It is a period of self-denial so you can do something new and bring forth something new into the world. Pregnancy itself is a kind of Lent.
When a woman is pregnant, she has to say “no” to certain things because of a desire to bring forth another human into the world.
In order to say “yes” to the baby, she has to say “no” to other things.
I was recently reminded of this truth. But it caught me off guard because I spend so much time trying to say “yes” to so many things. I want to have the best of both worlds. I want to say “yes” to the things that are good and important without having to say “no” to other things.
I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t want things to be difficult. I don’t want to have to give anything up. I assume the world exists for my own comfort and pleasure.
So I say “yes” to as many things as I can and pretty soon all the less important things begin to crowd out what really matters. I become stretched to thin. I lose sight of what matters because the peripherals are draining all my energy and attention. And when things do not go my way, I am unable to handle it.
When Jesus offers us new life, he is inviting us into a “yes.” This is the yes of what life is meant to be: a life of abundance and joy and flourishing.
We like that part.
But this particular “yes” requires us to say “no” to other things. And often the “no” required to get to the “yes” is quite painful. Yet most of us don’t want to believe this is true. We want to say “yes” to better life as long as it doesn’t cost too much. But what happens is that we don’t actually enter into new life. We enter into adjusted life.
We have some of the old and glimpses of the new but we really never take hold of the new life. So what Jesus offers seems to become one more duty or obligation or demand for our time and energy.
It doesn’t seem like new life because it is not.
Think about what happens when I pregnant woman wants to hold on to the old way of doing things. It is damaging to the baby.
Or think about what would happen if the baby came into the world and the parents decided to live in the same ways as they had before. It doesn’t work. This way of living is not conducive to new life.
But when a mother decides to say “no” to certain things, her “yes” turns into joy, abundance, and flourishing. At times it is difficult, but the accompanied new life is completely worth it.
Unless we learn to say “no” to certain things, new life cannot survive.
Lent teaches us to say “no” to the things which are often good, but are not ultimate. Lent teaches us that when we discipline ourselves to say “no” we are still going to be ok. We can go without. We can be inconvenienced. We can be uncomfortable.
And we will actually survive.
But not just survive, but thrive.
Jesus is not interested in mere survival. Jesus is interested in flourishing.
So he teaches us what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to so flourishing is possible.
In Lent, we discipline ourselves in the “no” so we are made more aware of how much we could actually do without. We discipline ourselves in the “no” so we can enter more fully into the “yes.”