“Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” – Proverbs 30:8-9
On our little patch of ground that we get to call a farm, the beginning of spring is a season of outsized ambition. We’re drawing up garden maps and impatiently re-organizing our seed stash and ordering supplies for the slickest, sturdiest, and highest deer fence this community has ever seen. We’re re-jigging our compost system and it’s going to magically unlock the abundant agricultural potential of our soil. We’re coming up with menus cooked with ingredients from our farm that will be so appealing that every guest who eats here will instantaneously quit their city jobs and take on a life of farming.
In the midst of all this boundless optimism, the Lenten season shows up uninvited and unwanted, with its somber mood and talk of negation. What is this unattractive season doing, doggedly interrupting our intoxicating ambition?
The same intoxicating ambition that infects us on the farm seems to surround us continually. Everywhere from self-help books to an ad I saw today for a new condo development, we are told that the promised better life is just around the corner. If we could only muster the will-power, if we only try a little harder, have a little more grit and resilience, the fulfillment of our deepest hopes will be within grasp.
Our early spring ambitions culminate in the inevitable: a direct encounter with our own limitedness. Our plans outrun us and soon what felt like such wonderful ideas from a distance seem like frantic duties once you are in them. Some of the plans will slide their way down the priority list and into forgetfulness once the busyness sets in. Some crops will go unplanted (we didn’t even get to know you, winter squash crop of 2017). Some crops will outstrip our ability to harvest them and we will be picking tough, oversized pole beans that would have been sweet and tender a few days ago if we only there had been more time.
And the same upward ambition eventually runs into reality in our personal lives as well. At some point our attempts at self-improvement falter; our project to ‘be more intentional’ runs out of steam and we find ourselves stumbling through a Netflix binge on an evening we had set aside for a soul-nourishing book. We make a snide remark about someone that we had decided we would be more gracious towards. It turns out there is only so much we can do on our own, especially when it comes to improving ourselves.
So the gift of Lent is the gift of meeting our limits before they come looking for us. In the same instance that our spring enthusiasms leap ahead of us, the season of Lent asks us to remember how our own ambition often sours into sin. It gently prompts us to recall our inability to achieve anything of ultimate worth on our own. And it leads us to the seat of repentance where we receive two more gifts: the gift of reliance on God and the gift of each other. Only when I loosen my grip on ‘my will be done’ do I have room to pray with integrity ‘thy will be done’. And only when I recognize the pride of my self-reliance, can I create space in my dreams for the communion of others, joined with me in the commonality of shared labor.