On Ash Wednesday, we knew that March would bring with it vacation. Nearly two weeks of vacation, in fact. A week in Virginia with old friends, and then a long weekend in California. And on Ash Wednesday, we made the decision to abstain from alcohol as a Lenten discipline, including those vacation days in March.
But then, in Virginia, our friends (a pastor and his wife) suggested that we see our time together as an extended Sabbath celebration. Sounded good to me, and those glasses of wine did enhance our time. Then there was California. And honestly, for four days away from our children, four days of sunshine and runs on the beach and hiking along cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and sumptuous food and sleeping in... Honestly, I just wanted a margarita. And honestly, it tasted great.
So is this just an act of narcissistic confession? I hope not. The thing is, whether or not I abide by a Lenten discipline in and of itself matters very little. At any time of year, I should be careful about my alcohol consumption. At any time of year, God extends grace and offers freedom, not rule-keeping, in these types of decisions. At any time of year, I need to differentiate between hedonism and pleasure, between self-indulgence and gratitude for the goodness of God's material creation. It was C.S. Lewis who wrote,
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
Was I far too easily pleased?
These weeks leading up to Easter provide an opportunity to participate, ever so slightly, in the self-denial Jesus demonstrated in his life and ministry and on the cross. It's quite a stretch to say that not drinking a glass of wine compares to Jesus' suffering. But perhaps it prepares me to acknowledge the extent of his sacrifice. And when I fail in this self-imposed discipline, when I recognize how quickly I turn to half-hearted pleasures, perhaps I will also recognize how quickly he comes to me, with an invitation to live in the presence of the Spirit, to know fullness of life. How quickly he comes, with an invitation to share in his suffering, to share in his joy.