Dear friends on the journey,
Have you seen the meme depicting a remote cozy cabin in the woods with the caption, “Could you stay here without internet, phone, or television for thirty days?” Some memes offer a bonus condition of receiving a million dollars at the end of the month. Money or no money, my response is always and without hesitation, “Why yes; yes I could and would.” I would love to experience something like that. Just me, a stack of books, my Bible and journal, a retreat plan from my spiritual direction, comfy clothes and blankets, good food and snacks, coffee, and maybe some wine.
Today’s gospel story is a slightly similar situation in that Jesus retreats to the wilderness for forty days following his baptism. But this is where the similarities end between Jesus’ wilderness experience and my cabin retreat. Matthew tells us that Jesus was taken by the Spirit to the desert to be tempted by the devil three times. The first temptation is to get Jesus to rely on his own power, not God’s. The second temptation is to test God’s promise of protection and the third offers Jesus the promise of all the world’s kingdoms if he just worships the devil. But each time Jesus resists the temptation, rebuking the devil. Jesus will not test God, nor doubt God’s faithfulness.
These temptations are not dissimilar to our own. We are tempted by a culture that tells us to be self-reliant, trust only ourselves, strive for money and power, that worldly goods provide happiness and self worth. It shames us into thinking we’re not good enough until we’re thinner, richer, more educated, living in a bigger house. It tells us to keep up with the Jones’.
Fortunately, there’s a remedy. This forty-day season and retreat of Lent is rooted in the remedies of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer centers ourselves in relationship with God. In giving of our resources like money, we trust that God will provide for our needs. Fasting not only unites our suffering with Jesus’ and others’, but creates space, time, and focus for prayer and almsgiving. Lent invites us to grow in the same confidence that Jesus had in the desert to turn away from temptation to trust in God’s power, protection, forgiveness, mercy, and love.
We may not be able to go away for the next month to a comfortable cabin to ponder all this, and really, we shouldn’t, because the real growth happens in doing the work in the midst of busy normal lives. So as we begin this Lenten season, I offer a few questions to ponder:
● How can you use the forty days of Lent as a retreat?
● How are you going to incorporate prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?
● What are the temptations in your life that need to be addressed
● How can you become a better person on Easter Monday than you
were on Ash Wednesday?
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