I’m Giving Up Fear for Lent

In the Christian calendar, Lent is a 40-day season of preparation beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading into Easter; a time meant to echo Jesus’ 40-day period of solitude in the wilderness prior to beginning his public ministry.

It is also traditionally a season of deprivation, the letting go or giving up of a comfort or habit or food or practice that hinders a person’s reliance on god—the sacrifice meant to create space and to invite a deeper level of faith, by replacing that which has become a cushion or a crutch or an unhealthy fixation.

That being the case, I’m trying to give up fear for Lent.

I am trying to remove it from my daily diet.

I am trying desperately to say “no” to fear:

No, to engaging so many of the manufactured, inconsequential wars of words that distract me from the greater work of loving people, of encouraging them, of seeing them—the work of compassion to which I am called. The world already has enough followers of Jesus who have declared war on so much of it.

No, to the politics of terror that imagine a thousand threats lurking in neighborhoods and around corners and pouring over borders, all to perpetuate the necessary narrative of a sky that is always falling. We are terribly overpopulated with people who are perpetually in a battle posture of intolerance toward difference.

No, to cheap theology that needs an ever-encroaching enemy in order to give itself life and to stimulate zeal and to make itself feel valid. I see how destructive a Christianity built purely on being afraid of someone is—both to the one who practices it and the one they make monsters out of.

No, to the religion of least resistance that must pass every purity litmus test, that must have full agreement and consensus, that eschews the difficult and the complex conversations—one that subsists solely on stark black-and-white caricatures of the righteous and the wicked, of the inside and outside, of the saved and the damned. I think the world is exhausted from such self-righteous, judgmental accusers, who have grown so used to shouting that they have forgotten how to listen.

No, to the myth that we are at war with one another: that humanity is made of two massive armies of affinity, positioned on either side of a deeply-carved and insurmountable trench. I look around and see the way a theology of caricature and oversimplification removes proximity and keeps people at a distance, where all they can do is lob uninformed insults and shout dehumanizing slurs at one another.

No, to an impotent spirituality that is so easy threatened by people and by circumstance that it always requires violent defense; to an angry, posturing Christianity that has so very little regard or need for the humble, merciful ways of Jesus anymore.

And if I can say “no” to these things even in small and momentary ways, they make room for me to say “yes” to something else; the practices my faith is supposed to be a yes to:

A yes to loving people as I desire to be loved.

A yes to healing more wounds than I inflict.

A yes to yielding to the needs of others before my own.

A yes to making the world more decent because of my presence.

A yes to honoring the inherent worth of every person I share this space with.

A yes to reminding people of our interdependence and oneness.

A yes to moving to the margins to meet people there who are unheard and unseen and unloved.

A yes to sharing the overflow of whatever I have been blessed with in abundance; whether ease or comfort or opportunity or privilege.

A yes to defaulting to humility instead of arrogance with those who oppose me.

A yes to building bridges and not walls between people who disagree.

A yes to laying down being right if it makes me more loving.

A yes to remembering how assailed all people are with the grief of something or someone they have lost.

A yes to remembering the deep humanity of people, even when they act inhumanely.

A yes to being as loud about the beauty I see outside my window as I am about the ugliness.

A yes to finding the goodness in the world and giving it a signal boost wherever I can.

A yes to recognizing that a faith without love is a lifeless and worthless corpse and a waste of time to haul around.

The most prevalent command in the Scriptures is, “Do not fear,” yet is is the command I am often the most defiant toward and disobedient to.

I am doing my best in these days to give up all that is unloving and bitter and divisive.

I am seeking a holy abstinence: trying to discard fear so that I can pick up love.

That is what my faith requires of me.

That’s the greatest stand worth taking,

the fiercest fight I can engage in,

the gutsiest choice I can make,

the boldest declaration there is,

the most subversive movement to join,

the most powerful activism I have,

the greatest evangelism possible—and it’s far stronger than fear.

I’m told that this kind of love casts that fear out:

of my heart,

of my enemies,

of the Church,

of the world.

For forty days, or at least for what I can of this one, I’m going to try and believe that.

Whether you claim Christianity or any organized religious worldview for that matter—fear is a really lousy religion.

Maybe you should give it up.

Thank you to my dear friend Rabbi Brian Mayer, who asked me if giving up fear for Lent was possible and whose question moved me to a response.

Originally Published on JohnPavlovitz.com


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