From June to November 2013 I lived in Burkina Faso, a small West African country nestled between Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. It’s a very tiny country, the size of Colorado. It’s landlocked and as a result of that, very poor. It’s considered to be the third poorest country in the world, and the poorest country the Peace Corps serves. I went to Burkina as a Peace Corps volunteer rosy cheeked and full of optimism, destined to change the world by teaching all the little African children to speak English (they are a French speaking country) among other important things. Spoiler alert, Africa is a tough place to live. Burkina Faso is an especially tough place to live. It’s a country still developing; roads aren’t exactly commonplace, the education system is still reforming, and the economy is bad. As a Peace Corps volunteer, you go through three months of training and then are sent off on your own, to affect change in your local village. For many, this means living without electricity, showering out of buckets, fending off spiders and insects, teaching in a language you learned in just three months, and so many more adventures. Whenever something difficult would happen, whether it was a 15 mile bike ride through the rain and mud or surviving a 120 student English lesson, my neighbor (and most Burkinabe) would usually say “Ça va aller.” This means that while it might not be easy, it will be fine.
Looking back on my short stint in Burkina, I realize I’ve learned more than I thought I ever would have. I learned about myself, about another beautiful culture, about how much my faith means to me, and a bit of another language! I also learned how to embrace Lent. Not survive. Not begrudgingly enter. Embrace, accept, and even look forward to. “But Chris,” you quickly interject, “lent is a time of sacrifice and solemnness. We mirror the time Jesus was in the desert, being tempted by Satan. Lent shouldn’t be fun!” I agree with you blog reader, Lent is a time of quiet reflection. However, Lent is not something to be feared, nor is it a time we should approach with disgust.
Lent is one of the best times of the year, and not just because it becomes tuna and apple season in the Johnson household (I love tuna and apples on Lent Fridays!). We should constantly be evaluating our faith lives, and Lent forces us to do just that. It is a time that calls us to take a second, realize where we are in our faith life, and then to willingly sacrifice something that has gotten in the way of our faith journey. We shouldn’t sacrifice to make ourselves miserable or to appear holier than other people (“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” —Matthew 6:1), we should sacrifice something that gets in the way or distracts us from pursuing Jesus wholeheartedly.
We read a few Sundays ago that Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) We cannot serve both God and money, or God and Facebook, or God and music, or God and anything else. We can give those other things up and I promise you, it will be fine (ça va aller). However if we give up God in our lives, I promise you, it will not be fine. It’s so easy in our busy lives for something to creep in and push God away. Maybe it’s an addiction to social media that has begun to push us away from prayer. Maybe it’s constantly eating/drinking things that don’t glorify the temple we’ve been given.
We should constantly be evaluating our faith lives, and Lent forces us to do just that.
There are plenty of things to give up for Lent. But it’s important to ask ourselves why we’re giving them up. Are we doing it because it’s what we give up every year? Or is it actually something that will help us grow closer to God? Lent isn’t easy, but it’s something we should embrace. As the Burkinabe would say, ça va aller.
—Written originally in March 2014
[tweetthis]Lent is not something to be feared, nor is it a time we should approach with disgust.[/tweetthis]