“I do not like Lent. Why so much emphasis on contrition, confession, repentance, fasting? It makes me feel restricted, uncomfortable, and unhappy. I want freedom; I want free choice. I want self-determination.” How often have you heard people complaining about Lent like that? Sometimes I catch myself thinking along the same lines, too. When that happens, I try to convince myself to trust the spiritual wisdom and benefits that is embedded in the Lenten discipline. To me, the practice of confession and repentance is like wearing seatbelt.
I did not drive until I was an intern in a Lutheran parish in South Dakota 18 years ago. I did not learn to appreciate the value of seatbelt until I took EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class in Sioux Fall eight years ago (I was a pastor of a rural parish in South Dakota and there was a great of need of volunteer EMT in the community). One Saturday morning, the instructor taught us how to assess the injury that patients suffer as a result of automobile accidents. “Eight out of ten die after being ejected from car” He said. If he was correct (I have no reason not to believe him), death rate for those who are ejected from car is 80% . That is an extremely high number. I just could not believe it.
“So, everyone should wear seatbelt, not just drivers and passengers in the front seat”, I blurted out. “Absolutely,” He nodded. “Why haven’t the law-makers passed a law that would require everyone to wear seatbelt? It is a no-brainer” I said.
“There is only one explanation I can think of: politics. “He said. I was baffled and surprised by the explanation he gave me. What kind of politics is it that fails to do something as simple as wearing seatbelt to save thousands of lives each year in the country?
My instructor went on to say that there isn’t motorcycle helmet law in South Dakota, either. Again, politics is a factor. “To wear or not to wear helmet is my choice and the choice of the bikers.” Some lawmakers would use free choice as an argument against motorcycle helmet law. Another factor is money. The motorcycle rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, is the biggest one the world. About half million bikers attends the ten-day rally, which has a significant impact on the economy of certain areas of the state. Some bikers do not like to wear helmet. “Why do we have to make it so difficult for bikers to come to Sturgis? It is their choice; it is their life; it is their money. We do not want to lose anyone of them and their money.”
Then, the instructor told a story of a man who was a student in his EMT class years ago. This man was a veteran biker. One day he had a debate with the instructor about the helmet law. “I’ve never worn a helmet all my life and I will never wear one”. It seemed nobody could change his mind. Sadly, the story ended up in a motorcycle accident he was involved in afterwards. He died from a head injury. He died six months after finishing the EMT training.
Lord, save us from our own folly. Lord, have mercy on us and enable us to seek the truth about ourselves wherever we can find it. Lord, protect us from forces that are bent on killing us.
I know a three-year-old boy who constantly begged his parents to allow him to drive. One day, he grabbed the car key and sneaked into the car quickly. He locked all four doors and windows and started the engine. Sliding down the seat, he pressed the gas pedal and switched the gear. The car jerked forward and crashed into the corner of the garage instantly. Fortunately, no injury. No significant damage. His parents did what they could (you can image what they did) to teach the boy a lesson. He promised never to touch the car key again before he reached the legal age to drive. I can assure you that boy still remembers the accident and the consequence to this day.
What does God do to prevent His children from hurting themselves and hurting others? What commandments does God give us to keep us on the right and safe path? Who is the our North Star that shows us the right direction when it is pitch dark?
Lent is the season when we pause to take stock of our lives. It is a time for self-examination and reflection, a time for spiritual struggle and spiritual growth. Lent gives us the opportunity to confess our sins to God and to one another, and to ask forgiveness from God and those whom we have heart. Lenten repentance helps us cleanse our soul, mend our brokenness and jump-start our life. It also calls us to deepen and renew our faith in a good, just, and merciful God. Last, but not the least, during these forty days of Lent, we strive to get ourselves ready for the joyous and glorious Easter celebration.
Lent is a great gift to us from God and from the church.
May God bless us as we walk our Lenten journey as fellow pilgrims
P.S. This article was written for Faith Lutheran Church’s newsletter Mountain Mover, March, 2018. https://faithbellaire.org/about-2/mountain-mover-newsletter/