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"Muscle Sinks" -- Why We Should Make Lenten Resolutions that are Impossible to Keep

Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent invite us to self-examination and repentance through the ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-denial and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

Ash Wednesday and Lent invite us – challenge us – to take an good hard look at ourselves, to use the season to examine the lives we are living and make changes.

But one thing that makes Lenten resolutions different from New Year’s resolutions is that during Lent the focus is on God and God’s work in our lives.

In other words, Lent is a reminder that self-improvement is not something we do on our own strength.

What if improvement was God’s initiative?

What if God’s grace was already at work within us and what we needed to do is cooperate?

Years ago there was a movie called “Guardian,” where Kevin Costner plays a Coast Guard rescuer and then instructor at Coast Guard Boot Camp.

One of the recruits is a tall, huge, muscular guy, just incredible strength.

The very first thing the Kevin Costner figure does with the recruits is put them in the deep end of a pool and tell them they have to dogpaddle for one hour. If you fail this test, you go home.  

Well, guess who the very first one to fail and be sent home is? The big muscular guy, the one who looks like he’s going to breeze through boot camp.

As he’s getting out of the pool, the instructor says,

“you’ve just learned your first lesson: MUSCLE SINKS.”

Muscle sinks. Not a bad think to keep in mind during Lent.

Ash Wednesday and Lent can be a reminder that sometimes our muscles -- our efforts to save ourselves, rescue ourselves -- actually end up just tiring us out, working against us.

Other times of the year, we can believe that there’s nothing wrong with us that we can’t muscle our way through.
Other times of the year, we can say humanity is mistaken and just needs better education;
That humanity forgets and just needs better reminders,
That we are lazy and just need better motivation.
But Ash Wednesday and Lent speak another truth, an uncomfortable truth about ourselves:
That there are times when we as human beings lie, cheat, and steal knowing full well we are lying, cheating and stealing and doing it anyway because…well, we’re not just mistaken or forgetful or lazy in need of education reminders or motivation, but we’re sinners in need a savior.

Ash Wednesday and Lent can be a reminder that when it comes to sin – when it comes to our alienation from God and from one another -- we’re in water over our heads. And we can’t muscle our way out of those waters. We must be rescued. 

That’s part of the reason I think it’s a good idea to make some Lenten resolutions that are impossible to keep – at least not possible to keep perfectly.

It’s a good time to step back and ask ourselves what kind of things have a hold on us, what kinds of bad habits have we fallen into, what sin-patterns we need, with God’s help, to face and break.

So I would challenge you, yes, to give things up for Lent, but to go beyond the petty vices/potential addictives like sweets and alcohol and consider giving up other deeper habits that force you to take a hard look at yourself.

For me, this year: I’m giving up CHIPS.

That’s an acronym for giving up

Clutter, Hurry, Ingratitude, Procrastination, and Self-centeredness.

Compared to giving those things up, giving up chocolate or alcohol is easy!

Because when I give up clutter, I’m having to face not just physical clutter -- the messy desk or bedroom -- but emotional clutter, electronic clutter, social media clutter, spiritual clutter. And reducing those things gives me focus.

Because when I give up hurry, I’m forced to be present in the moment. I’m not allowing myself to wallow in regrets over yesterday; nor am I allowing myself to escape into what Tomorrow Might Be…and when I fast from regrets or nostalgia over yesterday and from hopes or fears over tomorrow, I am faced with facing responsibility for the one and only day I have any control over, and that’s today, this day, this hour, this moment.

Because when I give up IN-gratitude, I’m forced into its opposite, which is gratitude.  I have to give up whining, moaning, and complaining. I have to notice how much God and others have done for me. I have to stop wanting to win the lottery and realize that as a North American living in 2015, geographically and historically speaking, I already have, and then concentrate on translating my feelings of gratitude into concrete actions of thanks-giving, sharing, service, and looking for symbiotic opportunities to serve.

Because when I give up procrastination, I have to stop talking about writing my book and write my book. And beyond that, I need to stop procrastinating difficult decisions because I don’t want to make major mistakes or rock the boat…knowing that not wanting to make mistakes or rock the boat sometimes has at its root wanting to be liked, and wanting to be liked often has at its root not spending enough time being loved by God. And I need to stop procrastinating joy, thinking that all will be well once X or Y or Z is done…to stop saying “It’ll all be great when this happens, or “I’ll be glad when that happens” – in other words, I need to stop postponing joy.

And at the base of all this, behind all this, I need to give up self-centeredness, being the center of my own attention, my own thoughts. These disciples, like all good Lenten disciplines, are meant to lift my eyes to the Holy and into loving service to others.

I can’t do this on my own: muscle sinks.

I’m a sinner in need of a savior.

But with God’s help, I can, this Lent, focus on God, be present with others, engage in concrete acts of thanksgiving and service. And feast on God’s Amazing Saving Grace. Right now.


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