The Legalism of Lenten Tea….Or how to fail without failing.

I have legalism skillz.
No really, I have turned legalism into an extreme sport.  I’m hoping to get it past the Olympic committee and make it an official olympic sport in 2012.

What evidence do I have that my legalistic skillz are extreme?

I managed to take a grace based  season,  (namely: Easter/Lent) and turn it into a festival of iced-tea abstinence, legalism and pride.

Trust me, that took skill.

It all started with a book and some blog posts I read. (Am I the only one who gets inspired to stupidity by the brilliance of others?) As I read about someone else’s Lenten experiences and observances, I started to feel a little  jealous. (OK, “a little” is putting it mildly.) I desperately wanted that kind of experience. I felt  like I was getting ripped off by my non-denominational, contemporary faith. (I should have known this motive would lead to no good.)

“Why can’t I observe Lent?  I bet I could learn from it…it’s not like the Catholics “Own”  lent or anything..I could do it too…” I thought. Not slowing down  to  consider my motives or attitude.

And with that, I decided to observe the tradition of  Lent.

“Now what?”  I had to decide what to give up. It should be something I love. But something I could do without fanfare and whistles… (going meat-less would affect my whole family… skipping caffeine would for sure lead to murder not an option. I moved down my list of vices… Giving up chocolate?  Too risky.  I might need the serotonin boost or the antioxidants. I’d hate to give myself cancer over Lent… besides…. it’s medicinal, like vitamins.. for Pete’s sake…)

So I wondered:  “What can I give up that would be both a sacrifice and an offering.. that would remind me to focus on God?” Since iced tea is my vice of choice I went with that. (I can tell you which restaurants and drive through’s within a 30 mile radius have the good stuff.) I have been known to pick a restaurant by it’s iced tea offerings. I love Iced tea.

Assuming that a greater blessing would come with a greater sacrifice.. I gave up my tea.

Don’t laugh… You have no idea how hard that has been.  Think quitting smoking without the patch..(although I’m getting desperate… I may tape a tea bag to my forearm later today..

My plan:

  1. To give up iced tea for the Lenten season.
  2. To  set aside the money I would have spent and donate it to the blood water  mission .
  3. Take those iced-tea craving moments and focus on God. I’m using the Mosaic Bible Lent readings.

Now, If I were mature, (which I’m not) I’d have kept this whole thing quiet. But I kind of want people to know about my sacrifice for God.. (Hey, I may inspire others with my… um brilliance?) Well,  I guess it might build my holy street cred… or  not.)

The thing is, people don’t care. Most just say something along the lines of:  “Tracey, You’re not Catholic. ” To which I respond: “The Catholics don’t own Lent.”  (See?  told you, immaturity: I have it..)

So, I’m not sure it’s working in general. Or maybe it’s working better than I’d hoped. I’m definitely learning.  I’m just not liking all that  I’m learning- about myself.

Almost every day, I’ve craved Iced Tea. Probably more than I would normally at this time of year.    Maybe it’s because of the thought that I can’t have it.  I have had not a drop since Ash Wednesday. But I’ve been tempted too. Seriously tempted….

Friday night we had a pretty rough experience. after things settled down… I immediately wanted: iced tea. I felt angry, frustrated, upset and like the world wasn’t fair at the time.. in a way, I think I wanted to “get back” at God a bit by drinking some iced tea.. (How lame is that?  )  In a way..Lent had become a bargaining chip/control mechanism in my relationship with Him.. If God didn’t do what I want.. (which Friday was just to have us be nice,safe and comfortable) then he doesn’t get my “sacrifice..”  I managed to get a grip on myself and step away from the Iced tea.. but the weekend just got worse, one catastrophe after another.

Then, yesterday afternoon, in the middle of driving/drop off/ pick up and parent meeting chaos…I left McDonald’s drive-through feeling like the most (self) righteous person on earth. Why?  Because I didn’t order tea. I REALLY, REALLY WANTED to, but, I didn’t. (I did however, eat some fries…)  I drove off with huge cups of Dr Pepper for the boys… The whole drive I thought I heard  heavenly  “Ca-chings!” As my  holiness points compounded. (Can you get delirium from iced tea withdrawal?  Just curious..) I was not exactly focusing on God…

Something about that struck me as even more wrong than the rest of my attitudes around this… but I ignored it, again. (Apparently, I also have mad denial skills.)

That is, until this afternoon. When I seriously posted to Facebook asking if hot tea would be ok to drink… because I’d “technically” only given up iced tea….( the truth is I was planning on letting hot tea get to room temp.. then it would ALMOST be iced tea.. without actually breaking my fast….right? See I  told you- I have skillz!)

That smell you smell right now? That’s  not fresh brewed tea.  It’s fresh brewed legalism.

I wanted to clarify the lines (law) in order to toe right up to the edge… do the minimum to meet the requirement while making myself comfortable. (You know.. just A little hit of iced tea takes the afternoon edge off…it comforts me!)  I also wanted to gain some quick  holy points, by talking about my sacrifice AGAIN.. because I was truly tempted by the clarion call of tea, so I deserved it. Sure– God may be honored by my sacrifice.. but he’s can be pretty quiet about these things… I wanted a little instant gratification.

As soon as a friend posted a response…with some help about how I could get around my fast… I felt that tug in my spirit…

“Legalist.” it said.  I felt a blush of humility rise from my toes to my cheeks.  Yup. Sure enough.  I’d taken a perfectly beautiful observance and sacrifice and turned it into a 3 ring circus of legalism.  I was towing the line.. to get what I wanted….when I didn’t get what I wanted… I either sought it else where (holy points) or was tempted to drink the tea (when life wasn’t fair – but painful) in a spiritual pout and temper tantrum.

What about what God wants? The truth is…  I hadn’t bothered to ask. I just followed a formula— one I made up based on other’s experiences… and tried to hold God accountable to it. I kind of thought that by giving up tea.. my Lenten season would be especially blessed.  It hasn’t been.

Actually, it’s been pretty crappy.

I’ve faced rejection, frustration, writing blocks, stress, a dog attack and subsequent back injury and pooch recovery…… education decisions for my youngest, waiting on income checks that are long over due…a crazy schedule and feeling overwhelmed and insecure and am now struggling through whether or not to proceed with a lawsuit…

Yeah… I wouldn’t exactly call that blessed..( except maybe in the very special southern christian way that makes “BLESSED” sound almost like a curse word…)

As I tried to type a pithy reply to mu girlfriends suggestions for iced-tea work arounds…I realized the truth of what I’d made Lent into.  A not so Holy Mess.

Even without breaking my iced tea fast.. I’d failed.

Maybe, that’s what Lent is all about… coming to grips with the truth that we fail, but God does not.  We bargain with sacrifices.. but Jesus offers them freely.

Maybe this hasn’t been a total fail aftter all.

These verses are haunting my lenten days… I wonder if maybe I should worry more about how I can obey.. than what I can offer in sacrifice…

1 sam 15:22

But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Questions for you:

  • Are you observing Lent?
  • How?
  • What struggles have you faced?
  • How has God responded?
  • What are you using for Lenten prayer/reading?
  • Share a verse that is haunting your Lenten season…. 🙂

Oh and have an Iced Tea for me.. I’m DYING HERE!  Is it Easter yet????


3 thoughts on “The Legalism of Lenten Tea….Or how to fail without failing.

  1. Tracey,

    This is a great post – very real and honest. Thank you for sharing as I’m sure God will use this to help others in their walk.

    In response to your specific questions, no, I am not observing Lent this year. My background is similar in that I come from an evangelical worship tradition (Southern Baptist) that did not follow the worship cycle of the Christian year. However, in recent years, the season of Advent, with all it’s scriptures and symbolism has tremendously helped me focus on the Christ of Christmas, rather than the consumerism of Christmas.

    As a worship pastor, I hope to see more evangelical/protestant churches adopt traditions from the Christian year and liturgy, in a contemporary setting. I believe that is one path to a deeper experience of the greatness of God and the awe that He inspires.

    Though I’m not observing lent, there are some major “God-happenings” in my life right now. One of the many verses that is driving me at this time may help you as well on your journey:

    Psalm 119:37 – “Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your ways.” http://read.ly/Ps119.37.HCSB

    For me, the lowest common denominator of lent is to join with Christ in His suffering. It’s at our weakest moments in life that God reveals Himself as our full and only strength. I have found that the scripture above helps me to prioritize life in a way that allows God to show his strength and glorify Himself. That is worship. That is life as He intends.

    It seems the point of your post was to encourage others, and you have succeeded with me. In my thoughts above, I merely wish to return the favor.

    Sincerely,
    BP
    @PursuingYahweh

  2. Shell says:

    I am lov’n this post! (and girl I love you to bits) I can sooo hear your voice as I read this! Very well said, but, um…I think I’m the bad guy! ; )

    I have many non Catholic friends who take part in Lent. I never have and giving up tea (of any kind) would be huge for me. (loved the taping a bag to your arm!) Your verse at the end was a perfect fit.

  3. Hi! I am not especially observing Lent this year. I grew up in the Catholic church, but now I attend a UCC-Congregational church. Some years I observe – I have in the past given up Starbucks coffee (huge for me at the time). I have heard some of my favorite religious thinking people suggest that rather than giving something up one might consider adding something for Lent – an observance, a regular prayer moment, some quiet time, some charitable action, etc. I had given that some thought as Lent approached this year, but it started so early I was caught by surprise. I admire you for taking part, for giving it so much thought, and for sharing it with us. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say when it is all said and done.

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