What’s stealing life from you?
I was listening to a podcast the other day when I heard a phrase that jumped out at me. The phrase was “life thief.” The host of the podcast was talking about her eating disorder as a life thief—something that steals life away from her. It was such a clever turn of phrase that I immediately wanted to steal it. Or maybe I’ll just borrow it instead. In any case, I want to stay with it for a while, especially today, on Ash Wednesday.
It’s become popular, if anything about Lent can be called popular, to make a commitment in this season to take something on rather than give something up. Taking on has value too. But I wonder if that’s become so popular because we hate giving things up. We hate letting go. The idea of fasting from anything leaves a sour taste in our mouths. It’s so much more satisfying to say “yes”! To commit ourselves to one self-improvement project after another. How soothing it is to agree to everything that’s asked of us, or to bend ourselves like Gumby around other people’s expectations and needs. “Yes” feels like triumph and success. “No” feels like a lead weight. If you have something you know you want to say “yes” to this Lent, don’t let me stop you. But if you’re on the fence, can I put in a word for the life thief?
Jesus is sometimes alarming about the dangers we face. I’m alarmed when I read, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Jesus isn’t talking here about racking up points in heaven. I hear him say that we should have nothing that cannot be taken from us, even our very lives. Is that radical? You bet. Does that fly in the face of our instincts, our sentiments, our habits? Absolutely. But a thief can only be a thief when they take something we hold dear. And the problem with all of us, really, is that we hold as treasures things that rust and rot.
So, what is the life thief in your life? Is it envy? Is it distraction? Is it a belief that there’s never enough time, enough money, enough enough to go around? Are you giving into fear about the future of the country? Do you refuse to forgive yourself, or someone else? Is your phone spending too much time in your hand? A life thief can steal other people’s lives, too, of course; which is why I appreciate when some folks decide to fast from white privilege, or go old-school Lent and eat less meat, but this time because it’s good for the planet. What steals life from you, or from the marginalized people Jesus hung out with?
Lent is meant for more life, whether we give up or take on. Lent is for the treasure that no thief can steal. Which is—I believe—the communion of God within us and among us.
So let the thieves do their job—and take everything that isn’t God away.
So good to meet you in Lent, Tiny Faith!