As I write this I’m suffering from a head cold. I hate being sick. I feel my mind and my body are failing me even though I know it’s an immune response for which I should be grateful. I just don’t want to admit my weakness. My shame tells me I should be able to power through and be productive—yet I can hear my Savior say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Then, if I believe His promises are true, I gladly confess my weaknesses are great. May His grace and power prove greater. Truly, He is powerful always, but it’s not until we confess our weakness that we see His power made perfect.

Similar to how a common cold can reveal our fragility as humans, the season of Lent provides the Church an annual opportunity to remember our humanity and our dependence on the Lord. Our weakness is revealed as we identify with the suffering of our Savior. These forty days of sacrifice and reflection draw painful attention to our limits and our needs, but unlike a virus or the various other forms of suffering in life, we volunteer for this. We adopt the same attitude of Jesus, choosing to humble ourselves in surrender. 

He emptied Himself. 

Philippians 2:1-8 may not immediately come to your mind when considering Lent, but for me it captures the hope and practice of the season beautifully. May we be one in thought and affection, humble and unified as the people of God on the mission of God in all of life. May we, like Jesus, do nothing from selfish ambition but consider others more significant than ourselves. 

This impossible task is ours to have in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There is plenty on which to meditate in these ancient lines, but I’m drawn to the phrase, “He emptied Himself.” A concept which here, evidenced by the lines that follow, means He set aside the privileges of His eternal throne to be with us as a suffering servant. He never ceased to be God, but He chose to lay aside His heavenly glory in full submission to the will of His Father. He took on the limits and weaknesses of being human.

May we, too, empty ourselves.

Fasting and praying brings us to confession and grief in profound ways. Denying our body food, entertainment, or other comforts reveals the feelings we attempt to hide or ignore (i.e. loneliness, shame, anxiety, etc.). As we sense the physical hunger and spiritual longing from within, we may also notice we are drawn towards the superficial things in which we typically find our false sense of gladness or a transient strength. It’s often said that Lent is a season for emptying ourselves of lesser things, but perhaps we should also consider why we turn to these lesser things when the greater things of the gospel are freely available to us. 

Many of us have learned to survive the challenges of this world by our own means and in our own strength—and praise God we have survived. But we’ve gained a sense of purpose in our accomplishments and a sense of value in our productivity. We live day-by-day as if it’s determined by our will and efforts. We, going all the way back to Adam and Eve, seek to be the God we know we need, so we reach for power in forbidden trees. You might say we live as if equality with God is a thing to be grasped. So when this way of being is disrupted—by something involuntary like an illness, or a proactive decision to sacrifice—we are forced to see, we are indeed, not God. 

Though He existed in the very form of God, Jesus emptied Himself to be a man. We, following His example, ought to empty ourselves of our attempts to be God. In doing so, I’m certain we’ll discover being human is exactly who we are meant to be. There is joy and freedom in embracing our weaknesses. This is the gift Lent offers us. The path towards death on a cross doesn’t seem like the one we should choose in pursuit of joy and freedom, but we can be sure it is the only way to the resurrection. 

Our confession is as simple as accepting our humanity. Our sacrifice is emptying ourselves of lesser things, embracing our weakness, and acknowledging we are powerless to save ourselves. We need a Savior. He came, He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross, and by His sacrifice we are saved. I pray this season of Lent serves us in seeing more of who we are in light of who our God is. May we discover His grace is sufficient for all of our needs, His power is made perfect in our weakness, and by His resurrection we receive the life and liberty we could never gain on our own.

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