Giving up Control for Lent
February 14, 2018
By Mike Ivaska
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 NIV
Ever since the Garden of Eden, people like us have been trying to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), trying to be our own gods. And this tendency in us does not go away even after our conversion to faith in Christ. If you don’t believe that, tell me this: Do you ever get upset that things don’t go your way? Does it ever seem to you like an injustice, not because technically it is, but because it simply is not what you wanted? So much of our misery, it seems to me, comes from our desire to control the outcomes of life, and our fearful or angry realization that we can’t actually control anything. An apt, if cynical, description of the human race is that we are animals trying to be gods.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the traditional Christian season of Lent. I spent it with my father, going to the doctor and having some tough conversations about his health. Ash Wednesday is a day for contemplating our mortality. The Lenten season is a time for self-denial, a time for contemplating all that our sin cost our Savior, all that he gave up for us in his life and death. It is the season that leads us to Holy Week, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. Traditionally, some Christians give something up during Lent. During the Middle Ages, under the rule of Rome, it was mandatory to not eat meat for instance. But it has also been a time of voluntary self-denial, to give up some pleasure or perk. Sometimes this is done in an effort to grow closer to Christ. Sometimes it’s done as an arbitrary, traditional act. And sometimes it’s done as an act of moral willpower. Such is the legacy of religion.
This year, as I prepared to give up the things I had chosen for Lent, it struck me how much anxiety runs through me at a very deep level. Even the little token acts I was preparing for were producing, far below the surface, a stream of worry. Would I succeed for a full season? Had I thought this through? And all this, on the day I was going with my father to have some important conversations with his doctor. How much control does my dad have over what he has given up? How much is my anxiety the result of a desire for control? How much of the fear any of us experience is the result of wanting to have more say in our future? How much anxiety, anger, and fear is really just our desire for control running up against cold reality?
It is significant to me that when Jesus teaches us to pray, he starts the prayer with words of intimacy and surrender. “Our father. . . your will be done.” The people of God are called, not to individual acts of spiritual heroism, but to corporate submission to the God who wants to be our Father, who offers us adoption through his Son. God offers us freedom, not to control our lives and our futures, but freedom from the need to do so. The freedom to let God be God, and to let ourselves be loved.
If you choose to give up anything for Lent this year (and of course no one has to, and some maybe even shouldn’t), think about giving up control for Lent.