When I am feeling run down, I like to lapse into fantasies about destination spas. Whether we’re talking about Canyon Ranch in Tucson or Mii Amo in Sedona, I day dream about their cloud soft bedding, private sunning decks, hot stone massages. (I think less about the healthy eating and the rigorous exercise, of course.) The idea of getting away, of taking a break, of being taken care of, seduces me into wanting to leave my life for awhile. I just know if I had a week or two at one of these magical places that promise physical, spiritual and emotional healing, that I would emerge renewed, peaceful, a better version of myself.
Man, am I ever lucky that as a Christian, I get a built in retreat every year! And guess what? You do, too!
Now, our retreat does not have pools bubbling with warm spring water, or gourmet meals for fewer than 350 calories. But our retreat is free and it lasts a whopping forty days.
When you think about Lent, you might think about fish on Fridays and giving up something decadent for a few weeks. But, Jesus’ temptation during his time in the wilderness invites us to experience Lent in a new and deeper way. And a Lent experienced this way, might just leave us feeling more spiritually refreshed than any destination spa.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ time in the Wilderness comes immediately after his baptism. Before he goes out to preach and heal and perform miracles, he is led by the Holy Spirit to this time of testing.
The devil tempts Jesus in three ways.
First, he tempts Jesus, who is famished after fasting for forty days, to make bread.
Second, he offers Jesus all the political power in the world.
Third, he tempts Jesus to throw himself off of the temple in Jerusalem in order to prove that angels would protect him.
And while Jesus’ retreat in the wilderness was not a pleasant one—I do not think Canyon Ranch offers any sort of devil temptation treatment—his time in the desert prepared him for the rest of his ministry.
Jesus did not stop facing temptation once he left the desert. Luke 4:13 reads, “[the devil] departed from him until an opportune time.” Throughout his ministry, I’m sure Jesus was tempted to rely on his special gifts rather than relying on his Father. I’m sure he was tempted to use his follower’s adoration as a way to pump up his own ego, rather than pointing people to his Father. Jesus’ time in the desert made sure he faced these temptations in a dramatic way so that he would know how to handle himself when they came up in his day to day ministry.
We are faced with the exact same temptations. Lent gives us an opportunity to face them head on, without flinching.
The devil may not tempt us to make our own bread out of the air, but all of us are tempted to rely on our own resources, to forget that God provides everything that is. All of us face anxiety about how we are going to provide for ourselves.
The devil may not make us an offer to rule all the countries in the world, but all of us are faced with opportunities to abuse power. Many of you are in positions of enormous power. If you are a professor or a PhD student, are you treating your students fairly? Are you jockeying for power within your department? If you’re a person with employees, do you treat them with respect and dignity? If you’re a parent are you taking your responsibilities seriously? If you write or blog or Facebook, do you think carefully before criticizing someone publicly?
The devil may not tempt us to jump off the bell tower at Trinity to see if angels will come and save us, but all of us are tempted to let God or others bail us out on occasion. Do you get in your car without putting on a seatbelt? Do you occasionally cheat on your taxes a little bit, assuming you won’t get caught? Do you drink a little too often, do you smoke?
This Lent, you have the opportunity to ask yourself these questions. Really reflecting on these temptations will have a much bigger impact on your spiritual life then giving up chocolate for six weeks. As Christians we are called not just to show up to church on Sundays, but to live a life of discipleship. We are called to follow Jesus, even when that leads us into the desert. Even when that leads us into an unflinching examination of our own lives.
Again, here are the questions to ask yourself.
- Where in your life are you not trusting God to provide for you?
- Where in your life are you abusing the power God has given you?
- Where in your life are you taking unnecessary risks because you think God or others will rescue you?
When you ask yourself these questions you are communing with Jesus in the desert. Just imagine, Jesus asked himself the exact same questions and struggled with the same temptations we do. We worship a God who understands our experience, who knows what it is like to struggle to live a holy and ethical life.
We honor that compassionate God by taking our lives seriously, by taking Lent seriously.
Lent may not come with mints on our pillows, horseback rides and free yoga classes, but living a holy, reflective Lent can change our lives and give us the perspective we need to face temptations in our lives the rest of the year.