One of my middle school friends was broken up with today. He is a basketball star, she is one of the cool kids. After a couple weeks of dating that consisted of little more than sitting together at lunch and texting after school, he was convinced she was the love of his life.
He loved her with his whole 14 year old heart.
Now, you and I know better. We know this was infatuation. We who have the wisdom of years know that love is more than butterflies and more than the excitement of reciprocated attraction.
But the pain my friend is feeling is real. Even though this was not a deep, committed love, his heart is breaking for the loss of relationship. It stings.
And this sting of the heart is the invitation in season of Lent. We are invited to let it hurt.
On purpose and for good cause.
Lent often begins with a call from the prophet Joel:
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your hearts,
with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
tear your hearts
and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, full of faithful love,
and ready to forgive. Joel 2:12-13
Those of us who are human have a tendency to get our hearts caught up in things that are not full of love. Not real love. At least not the faithful love of God.
We are captivated by cute and shiny things, much like middle schoolers. We are enamored with mutual attraction. We like being liked. The butterflies, the status it brings, the fun of young
Unfortunately, these infatuations are not as innocent as they were in middle school. They distance us from God and God’s desires for us. They cheapen our commitments to each other. They fill us with empty things. They call for our allegiance. They distract. They numb. They consume. They block out any conviction that might otherwise call us back to the right path.
They tell us we are loved and they ask for our whole hearts. The first part is a lie and the second is a death sentence.
What starts out as a fleeting middle school romance quickly turns into full fledged idolatry and adultery. What seemed fun and harmless becomes the thing that destroys our faith, our witness, our church, and/or those we most care about.
And so in Lent we take the time to ensure this is not happening to us. We do the hard work of breaking our own hearts. Of examining where and to what we give our attention. We break up with our crushes even when our crushes look like everything we’ve been searching for. Even when it hurts.
More than just ripping our clothes (an ancient act of sorrow) or going to a worship gathering or saying “I’m sorry” or jumping through the next hoop, we rend and rip our hearts. We get in there where it stings and we let it make us uncomfortable.
We let it sting believing that the sting teaches us. It reminds that these things (whether good or bad) can distract us. It reminds us that they are not truly life giving. It reminds us that God alone is worthy of our whole hearts and allegiance. And it helps us remember just how much work we still need.
Perhaps it is people’s opinions that easily catch our attention. Or maybe its the pursuit of endless pleasure that draws our eye. For many of us it is the allure of power and control. For many it is our allegiance to partisanship that is standing in the way of faithful love.
It can be something as simple as Facebook and as complex as our core identity. Some of these things are new and some of them have been making their way into our hearts for years and years.
The invitation from God for us this day is to, “Return to me with all your hearts.”
The way to ensure we are doing this is to put an end to these other relationships. To break up with (even temporarily) whatever may be in the way of what God wants to do with and through and for us. One typical way to do this is through prayer and fasting.
Perhaps you and I should abstain from social media for a while. Or political news. Perhaps we could channel the energy we put into politics towards our faith or our family. Maybe we take a break from food or drink, especially when we reach for these things in times of trouble. Maybe its a person. Or a bad habit. Maybe its a break from television that numbs us to death. Or perhaps there is something new we should begin or return to (perhaps a commitment to a faith community) that can help us align our hearts with God.
Whatever it is, however good or bad it may be, we have to put in the work. We need Lent because it is too easy to sit idly assuming that everything we do and and are attracted to is good and godly when there is ample evidence in human history and our very lives that demonstrates this is probably not the case. We need work. Lent is an invitation to allow God to do that work in and alongside of us.
Even when it stings. Perhaps especially when it stings.
My friend will be fine when he realizes this girl wasn’t really the love of his life. Though he hurts today he will be better sooner rather than later. One day he may think how fortunate he is to have not wasted time and energy in this relationship.
May it be so in us as well.
May we have the courage to break our own hearts for the sake of our faith. May we be willing to sit in the sting of heartache long enough to know where true love is found. And may the pain and anguish of a break up turn us back to the God who “heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” May we find life in response to the death of our middle school crushes.