You may be wondering, ‘Why 40 days for Lent?’ Well, the quick answer is: Jesus. No, it’s because of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness that the Church models the discipline today. The number 40 represents a sense of completeness. It’s longer than a typical month, which suggests that certain seasons require just a little bit longer to complete the cycle of change. I noticed this year that January had about 40 or more days. At least, it felt like that. Just when I thought the month of January was over, there were many days remaining. So, the number 40 implies this sense of ‘completeness.’ (Probably not the best defence of this, but oh well.)
Today at CrossFit, we had a 40-minute partner workout, and to be honest, I hated it. Forty minutes felt like 40 days. Here’s my description of the exercise: Three partners. One person bikes for calories, while another partner completes a round of 5 burpees, 10 push-ups, 15 toes-to-bar (which means you hang from a bar above your head while lifting your toes…to…the..bar) and 20 kettlebell swings. Then, the final person rests while the other two work, and everyone rotates, giving everyone a chance at the fun! NOT.
While my team members did well, I suffered through it. Physical exhaustion can coincide with mental fatigue to create a sense of self-defeat. Even halfway through a workout like this, the end feels even further away. Will I make it? It doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but the end always comes in reality. The pain, sweat, and maybe even the tears are worth the growth and transformation, even though we can’t see those fruits while labouring in the physical struggle. To me, that’s the journey of Lent.
We give up something hindering the growth of our faith in Jesus. We take up something to ignite the development of our faith in Jesus. We struggle. We sweat. We feel the pain of the absence of what held us back and try to embrace the gift of the presence of the new discipline. Sometimes we don’t see the results until someone else testifies or we know the difference from yesterday to today in the evidence. That’s why it’s important to journal your daily thoughts and take more photos of your changing self. You’ll be able to see the transformation.
Transformation doesn’t always happen overnight, but it does happen over time. The variables, and our relationship with those variables, along with the environment, affect the speed of our growth. If you regularly exercise and maintain a recommended diet, you will see results in a reasonable time, assuming there are no health issues. If you practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading/studying Scripture, and worship and serving alongside a congregation, you’ll see spiritual results. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes pain.
Pain and struggle are necessary variables to create an incubator for change and transformation. Even though we know this, we may resist. But, as a follower of Jesus, we can immerse ourselves in spiritual disciplines, not fully understanding them, perhaps struggling with them, AND be led by the Spirit into the struggle of establishing and maintaining spiritual disciplines. Our heads may know that practising spiritual disciplines will lead to struggle and life, but our hearts may not feel it. But both can understand and feel, and vice versa.
I observed this thought while preparing to preach this past Sunday. I spoke on Matthew 3:1 when John the Baptist comes to the wilderness preaching, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ In Matthew 4:1, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for a time of fasting. Fasting is both a struggle and a pain. John obviously knew that the Messiah – his cousin Jesus Christ – was coming. So, John prepared himself and others by baptising them and imploring them to bear fruits worthy of repentance. He then told folks that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit.
After John baptised Jesus, the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness – the struggle. John came on his accord preaching, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ while the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness. Afterwards, Jesus preached, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ John prepared by baptising, and Jesus prepared after baptism. John knew. Jesus felt. (That may be a bold stretch of interpretation, but it’s at least a thought for us to think about)
We may not feel our body or soul’s transformation, even though we know it’s happening. We may not even think it’s worth the struggle, but I believe it is. Thankfully, I had my team members and other classmates this morning cheering me on this. That’s what I love about CrossFit. We all struggle together, but we cheer each other on. In CrossFit, we remember that we are humans, subject to pain and struggle, but capable of achieving success when others cheer for us.
In the Church and during Lent, we struggle with giving up something, probably because we relied on it too much. But, whatever you gave up, remember that thing isn’t life. Taking up a spiritual discipline in its place and growing in your faith in Jesus IS life. The first days of Lent feel ok, but rolling into the second and third weeks, you start to feel the absence of whatever you gave up. That’s when you need someone cheering for you to keep going because 40 days is meant for transformation and completeness.
Transformation may not happen overnight, but it definitely happens over time.
I am cheering for your transformation today.