There’s a legend that says during Lent we take Sundays off because at some point in time people were taking the fast so seriously that they started to harm themselves. The sense of guilt they were placing on themselves was so severe that the fast had become a form of punishment rather than a spiritual practice to help draw them closer to God and the understanding of their need of salvation. As a result church officials decided that people were to break the fast on Sundays and make that day an enjoyable day, then on Monday they could go back to fasting. I’m not sure that there is any truth to this legend,* but it does highlight the harm that blame can cause. Whether we are laying blame on ourselves or others the aim is harm and not reconciliation.
We live in an age of outrage. This outrage is a source of power for many of us. When we can blame someone for something we feel a sense of power over that person. That power causes us to feel more secure about ourselves and our positions or at least it provides an explanation for the pain we’re feeling. For all too many of us – especially me – this sense of power or explanation is often the only thing that gets us through the day.
Assigning responsibility, on the other hand, is about finding a path forward. It’s hard to move forward if there isn’t a clear understanding of what has happened and what needs to happen. In assigning responsibility we are not claiming power over the other, but rather acknowledging the reality of the situation.
Lent is about accepting our responsibility for our state of being. All to often within Christian circles we look at our current state and place blame on ourselves. We sinned and are therefore horrible people. In lent we are asked to be sober about our responsibility – yes we did sin and yes that sin is why Jesus died – but also we need to recognize that those realities do not make us horrible. (Remember Jesus’ death was out of love for us. If we were all that horrible I’m guessing we’d be having a different conversation now.) No, we can’t save ourselves, but assigning responsibility allows us also to see what needs to happen.
This Lent do not blame yourself for your current state. Understand your responsibility for that state and allow that understanding to move you forward deeper into the salvation provided by Christ.
* I’m pretty sure that the reason we break the fast on Sundays is because Sunday is a feast day and we don’t fast on feast days. Of course I could be wrong about this as well.
** This is the second in a series of posts on Lent, based off of John Perry Barlow’s “Principles of Adult Behavior”