I’ll never quite understand high heeled shoes. Why do us women put ourselves through the age old ritual of walking on our toes while a tiny sliver of a platform supports our heels? This experience is rarely comfortable, nor is it practical. Imagine somebody successfully climbing a mountain, wrestling a mountain lion, changing a tire, or running away from zombies. Are they wearing high heels in your imagination? I didn’t think so.
You know what I do appreciate about high heeled shoes, despite their impractical discomfort? I truly appreciate taking them off at the end of a long day spent wearing them! Wow, do my feet feel great to be freed from the foot-clenching confines of an impractical pair of shoes! I wiggle my toes, rub my arches, and feel like my heels are sinking into the floor with the perspective of finally standing flat footed after a day upon my toes. Kicking off a pair of heels is the first step towards the inevitable change into sweat pants and wool socks, followed by lounging on the couch with a warm knit blanket, television on or fireplace roaring, hot cup of tea in hand. Relaxation never feels as good as it feels following a day spent wearing heels!
As we approach the season of Lent (coming up in about 2 weeks!), many Christians are considering the season as though it’s an impending 40 days spent in uncomfortable shoes. They plan for their own discomfort, willfully “giving something up”, fasting, or abstaining from either sin or pleasure, because it has become a cultural Christian norm to do so. But what is the purpose of this self-denial exercise? Many have come to view the season merely as an earthly exercise in self restraint. The secular Lent message goes like this: Give something up for a time so that when you return to it again, you’ll appreciate it more. Chocolate never tasted so good as it tastes following forty days of abstaining from it!
Self denial for the sake of self improvement is not strictly a Christian practice. Asceticism, or the practice of strict self denial, can also be found in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. This is where Lenten self denial can become problematic for Christians. For many Christians, the focus of the Lenten season has become self improvement, discipline, or endurance, worldly goals which can be achieved with or without faith. In the meantime, we neglect the Biblical depiction of Lenten asceticism entirely. The Biblical Lenten message is this: Jesus gave up the ultimate pleasure—his own life—so that we can enjoy eternal life with Him. It is Christ’s self sacrifice that should be the focus of the Lenten season, not our own. If our self denial does not point to Jesus, then it is self serving. How can we prepare our hearts and minds for Lent in a way that honors God’s true sacrifice of His only Son for us?
Dear Jesus, help us to prepare our hearts and minds for your death and resurrection this Lenten season. Help us not to be self serving in our asceticism, to make the season all about our own self improvement or endurance. Rather, allow us to celebrate your ultimate sacrifice for us—the ultimate fast which led to our salvation. Amen!