Monday, February 22, 2010
Lent and the Temptation of Legalism
Each time I approach the season of Lent, I approach it with either goals of relinquishment or goals of addition. This year I am trying both. Each year, as I go through my Lenten journey, I struggle with some sort of legalism.
When most of us think of the struggle of legalism, we often really think of judgmentalism. We think of someone who spend all their time attempting to live by the rules, and looking down on those who do not. With Lent, we might think of the danger of legalism as being too hard on ourselves. This is not the kind of legalism I struggle with during Lent.
The kind of legalism that I struggle with during Lent is the kind of legalism that looks for exceptions and loopholes. For instance, for years in the past I would give up fast food for Lent. Then, for weeks I would struggle with which restaurant counts as "fast food" and which does not. Did Panda Express count? What about Chipotle or Qdoba? Subway? Or is fast food really just McDonalds and Taco Bell?
When I attempt to fast, I start pondering after about 12 hours whether a milkshake is a food or a drink. What about a candy I do not chew on, but just suck on, like Jolly Ranchers? Is that a break of the fast? Whenever I set a rule, it is not long before I look for loopholes and exceptions.
I think this form of legalism is kind of sad for two reasons. First of all,I think it quickly moves me away from relationship. Instead of getting closer to God, I work on being good enough and not disappointing God and myself. And when I get in the position of a child trying to earn love from my Heavenly Father I miss the love God is reaching out to me with.
Second, it exposes my lack of willingness to embrace the spirit of the discipline I am working on. I wish I were a person who was not tempted to quit so much. I wish I was a person that avoided the hard and painful stuff so much. But often I leave myself open to these temptations through my weakness.