Lent gives me power. Usually not accustomed to having much of that, I am astonished by the feats I can accomplish when it is Lent.
Any other time of the year, whatever task I am engaged in, if there is something I want, I stop my work and get it. I can sense that I am hungry or thirsty, and immediately get myself something to eat or drink. I can remember a book I wanted to read, or something in the rectory that broke, and I can go online and with a few clicks arrange for it to be delivered to me. If I am annoyed by the noises coming from the next room - which is the kitchen, home to a broad spectrum of noises -- I can turn on iTunes to provide “covering fire.” And when I am distracted, nervous, anxious, irritated, or bored, I can anaesthetize that unpleasant feeling by clicking on my browser and surfing the internet. And what I should be doing remains undone.
You may think that all this sounds like power, but it is the opposite. My appetites dictate my actions – yes, these appetites are dictators in my world! These are not just the appetites that I need for survival, either, like actual hunger for nourishment; these appetites are desires beyond what is necessary for life -- more like “the munchies.” I am, all too often, their abject slave.
But that’s okay…or is it? There are a lot of people telling me that’s okay, which is one of the reasons I fail to rebel against this serfdom. As a matter of fact, there is a steady stream of opinion and information telling me that this is, in fact, the pinnacle of power: to be able to get what I want, how and when I want it, because I want it. I can be remarkably attuned to what I want, just to be able to prove how powerful I am in getting it. So why do I feel so weak and helpless?
But then comes Lent, with a very different lesson about those appetites. Suddenly, I should – and can -- break the bonds of ennui and agitation, and assert this strange new power that I have: the power to NOT. The power to NOTfeed my face; the power to NOTwaste my time. The power to NOTavoid responsibility, or prayer, or someone else’s need.
This power is ours for the using against our own wants. We can NOTeat that second helping, NOTbuy those new shoes, NOTsay that funny but caustic remark, and even NOTsleep past the alarm. Soon enough, we are better and stronger at NOTyielding to our appetites. Slaves no more!
This is a great power, but let’s face it: we live in a society where it is increasingly difficult, even impossible, to NOTprovide someone else something, anything that they want. For one thing, almost every desire can be satisfied, thanks to our incredible advances in technology. And if satisfaction can be obtained, who are you (or who am I) to suggest it would be far better for someone to NOThave it? Where a human desire is sufficiently funded (that is, the desirous one can afford it) or relentlessly demanded, the obligation to sate that desire falls to a Company, a System, or a Government, that is constitutionally unable to NOTprovide it.
So how can we help these enslaved people, if our power is only to deny our own desires? For them and for their benefit, we can NOTdo things that we want for ourselves. Our self-denial can benefit other people who cannot or will not deny themselves what will harm them. This power comes with the opposite of the usual warning: Please DO try this at home!
This is the most amazing, even God-like (yes!) power that we have: to sacrifice. And unlike the simple power to NOT (for our own good), it is strongest because it is directed toward others. Unleashed in the world, this is the astonishing power of love. This Lent, feel the power!