In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul engages us in a fascinating discussion about marriage and celibacy as they relate to our new standing in Christ. Towards the end of his remarks on this issue he suddenly expands his horizons from marriage to all of our relationships. He says in verse 31, “Those who use the world should be like people who aren’t preoccupied with it, because this world in its present form is passing away.“
One of the reasons why we fast, especially during the season of Lent, is because we recognize that the things of this world have a strange way of capturing our preoccupations. When living in the present world we are seemingly drawn to unhealthy obsessions with otherwise healthy or neutral objects. This happens with our food consumption, our clothing choices, our television shows, our music and even our sleeping habits. Lent is that time when we revisit our preoccupations and loosen the ties that bind us to them in order to be more free for the service of God and for the new world that is coming.
Therefore the most powerful moments of Lent always happen right before Ash Wednesday. In the weeks and months leading up to the imposition of ashes, I find myself revisiting my habits, my routines, my comforts and my choices, praying about what God might have me surrender. As I do this, I am mindful of the words of a much wiser friend who once told me, “The thing you think you can’t live without is that which you should give up for Lent.”
I didn’t have to pray long to figure out what it was this year. It came about on Ash Wednesday morning I pulled myself from my bed, dragged myself to my coffee pot and stared longingly at it while I toasted a bagel. I “freed myself” from my morning cup of joe. . .and my second breakfast coffee too. . .and my nightly latte. . .and my mid afternoon stovetop espresso. . .and. . .nope that’s about it.
I am joking of course. I only drink a morning cup every morning, with an afternoon espresso every other day or so. Still, those cups of coffee and espresso were the highlight of any given day. My morning routine was centered around eating a bagel, drinking coffee and reading articles and books. And after a run in the winter cold, coming home to a warm blanket and a cup of espresso was my little slice of heaven, a slice I have sorely missed after some cold runs these last weeks.
You see, we joke around a lot about coffee in Christianity. I have said before that coffee is a
fruit of the spirit, that there is no virtue outside of coffee, that coffee is God’s way of saying, “I love you” and the like. Coffee has become a symbol of faith, right up there with the cross
. In fact, I realized awhile back that pastors used to go to coffee shops to make connections with “non church” people. Now we go to coffee shops to connect with the pastor down the street. If you don’t believe me, walk into the nearest coffee shop and yell, “Hey Pastor!” I bet half the heads will look up expectantly. And when I told my Christian and pastor friends that I was giving up coffee for Lent, I was greeted with a half hearted skepticism. As one of my esteemed colleagues noted, “I love my job way too much to give up coffee for Lent.” He may be right.
However, last January I realized that lying behind my love of everything black, dark and bold, was an unhealthy preoccupation with this present world. This preoccupation wasn’t just mental. It manifested itself in physical ways. It turns out caffeine withdrawal is a real thing, and a painful one at that. The first three days I had a massive migraine. The next week my legs were super tight during runs and I experienc
ed low threshold but constant spasms when I wasn’t running. My energy level crashed to the point where I took afternoon naps whether I intended to or not. My diet and hunger were thrown way off. It turns out that my body was quite preoccupied with the black liquid gold. As the Apostle might put it, “My whole spirit, mind, body and soul were in love with coffee.” And when I denied it the caffeine, my whole spirit went crazy.
This got me to thinking about what would happen if I “freed myself” from Jesus. What would that look like? Would it have that much an effect on my spirit, on my body, on my mind, on my routine? Would it throw everything in disarray and cause sleepless evenings of twitching muscles? Is my faith that important to me and that much a part of me? I think probably so. I am getting leg twitches just thinking about it.
Be that as it may, another reason we fast for Lent is so that our fasting can turn into feasting on Easter morning. And trust me, when I yank myself out of bed at 5:30am on Resurrection Sunday and sip that first sip, the coffee will be a reminder for me that a new world is coming, a world full of health and energy and vitality and devoid of death and destruction.
I can only wait and here is one last meme!