“Our culture prefers effortless spontaneity with occasional divine intervention in emergencies.”
So states NT Wright in a recent lecture on Christian virtue called, “Learning the Language of Life.” That one sentence describes most of my early Christian formation, so I feel like I’ve been playing “catch-up” the last decade as a Christian.
One of the reasons why I love Lent is that it exposes my bad habits that interfere with my development into Christ’s likeness — my laziness, gluttony, pride, lust, depression, anger, and greed. And those are just the ones I’m aware of. Sheesh. Most of the time, these things remain hidden in the murky shadows of my heart. But during times like Lent, and especially during Lent, I become aware of this foulness within me.
But to use a sports metaphor, the pain of having these areas exposed is like the soreness I feel when I increase my exercise regimen. The tearing down of my physical muscles is required for the rebuilding of newer, stronger muscles.
It’s similar in the spiritual life. As Wright also states in his lecture, “Everything we do is habit-forming.” Unfortunately, I’ve developed a lot of bad habits. They need to be torn down in order for new ones to be developed. And every year, Lent plays an important role in this ongoing process.
But you may ask, “What about grace?” And the simple answer is that the entire process is grace. By grace, God saw the world’s plight and acted. By grace, God forgives. By grace, God summons us to him. By grace, God immerses us into his Church. By grace, God fills us with his Spirit. By grace, God calls us to participate with him in ours and the world’s continuing renewal.
God’s grace and my effort go hand-in-hand. Not equally, mind you. God’s grace far surpasses any effort I exert. But my exertion and concentration are necessary. It’s how my will, mind, body and emotions actually get face-time with God’s grace. And one day, the proper habits that require so much effort now, will become second nature. They will require less exertion and less concentration as they become deeply embodied within who I am. As that happens, I will be increasingly prepared to live in God’s renewed world, not just in the future, but even here in the present.