On any given day that we log onto Facebook, most of us are likely to see an inspirational photo or message or quote which reads something like this:
You can do WHATEVER you set your mind to!
You will do GREAT things. Just believe in yourself!
You can overcome anything!
Or the Christian version:
You can do ALL things through Christ!!!!!
In other words,
YOU. GOT. THIS.
If “likes” and “shares” are any indication, these messages are mega popular. People love them, and I get it. It’s a romantic way of seeing ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as brave soldiers in our own epic tale. We are the heroes who can handle anything. When my kids are screaming and the house is a wreck and I just want to run away, these messages are appealing. They sound like a call to arms, and it stirs something inside us.
I can appreciate all of that.
But here’s what I’m wrestling with:
Tomorrow begins the season of Lent, which carries a very different message. You might not catch it at first, since Lent itself gets twisted into the “I can do anything” mantra. “Fasting” becomes “Look what I can give up!” “Let’s see if I can handle 40 days without THIS.” When we approach Lent this way, it’s basically like deciding to run a marathon. You want to see if you can rise to the challenge. If you can do this one thing, you can do anything.
That’s how some of us approach Lent, but I’ll be honest–that’s not where I’m at right now. I don’t feel like I can do anything, or handle anything. I am slamming into my limitations HARD. There are circumstances around me that are beyond my control, and there is nothing I can do about it. No mantra is going to change that fact, no matter how much I will it to be otherwise.
Right now, it is blindingly, painfully clear: I don’t “got this.”
However, that feeling of weakness, and frailty, and limitation–THAT is what Lent is about. Lent is the season of desperation and surrender and need. Lent is when we acknowledge that we are too broken to save ourselves, or the people around us. We are helpless, and hopeless, without a savior.
Lent is the season of “I don’t got this.”
At the IF Gathering this weekend, I heard Angie Smith say this about the myth of self-sufficiency: “Have you ever heard someone say, ‘God won’t give us more than we can handle?’ That’s a lie. EVERYTHING is more than we can handle.” She’s right. Most of us live our lives under the illusion that we can handle it. We devour every bit of those self-help messages. But sooner or later there comes a moment when God shatters that illusion, and allows us to truly see: we are nothing without Him.
That is the opportunity of Lent. During Lent, we don’t wait for God to shatter the illusion. During Lent, we choose to see reality, and lean into it. It is a season to confess, “I can’t handle this.” “On my own, I am not enough.” I mean, just try fasting from even ONE meal. It doesn’t take long–only a few hours–before your blood sugar drops, the hunger pangs set in, and you begin to shake. Just one missed meal, and you are physically weak. That is the ridiculously thin margin that stands between you and self-sufficiency. Just one meal!
Lent spotlights our frailty. But more importantly, it reminds us that we are not the heroes of our stories. Jesus is the hero. He is the one who has “got this.” The longer we go on without acknowledging that truth–the longer we insist that God won’t give us more than we can handle, or that we can do it on our own–the more likely we are to experience bitterness and burn out.
Yesterday my friend Lisa shared a verse from Genesis 41, which she paraphrased this way: “It is beyond my power to do this.” These words come from verse 16, in which Joseph is asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph flatly responds, “I cannot do it.” But then he says this: “God will give Pharaoh the answer.”
Those are the words of a man who is free. When we can finally admit that we can’t handle it, when he can surrender all our cares to God, that is when we welcome peace back into our lives. No, that doesn’t mean everything will be tied up in a nice neat bow, but it DOES mean the outcome doesn’t rest on you–that’s a truth that grants peace, even in the fury.
I’ll confess this is easier said than done. I go back and forth between admitting my limitations, and trying to deny them. I’m still struggling to trust God. But even in that struggle, there is grace. I can admit to God that I do not trust perfectly. Even my ability to have faith is broken. But in that place of doubt, in which I fail at such a simple thing as belief, God lovingly whispers,
“I got this.”