Last Weekend we saw “McFarland USA”. It was inspiring and uplifting. We left the theater feeling good and wanting to become runners (not me really, but the Princess & Mr. Mouse are already training for their own marathons). It was an interesting start to our Lenten season.
Church folk tend to view Lent as a somber and sober season. Seven weeks of grey as spring begins to overtake the winter doldrums. We don’t sing ‘Alleluias’, we give up things we like, and we take on spiritual disciplines to keep us focused on our faith. As I said, somber. I think part of the problem is our relationship with the word ‘discipline’.
Discipline is, of course, a bad thing. It is rules and structure. It is what happens to us when we get in trouble. Discipline is about power and control. Discipline is why we ended up in detention for talking in class. Discipline is why we got grounded. Discipline is not fun and Lent is about discipline. But we forget sometimes that discipline isn’t just about rules and punishment it is also about structure and self-control. There is a good discipline.
“McFarland USA” is all about good discipline. The kids on the running team get up early, work the fields, go to school, go back to work and THEN to cross-country practice. That is discipline. I am sure that I do not have the strength of character to follow that kind of routine. If Lent is about ridding ourselves of distractions and taking on disciplines to keep us focused, I am hard pressed to find a better example than the story of those young men. Their hard work and (yes) discipline allowed them to focus on something more than the day to day of their lives. It allowed them to see that they might be more than people had told them they could be. It paved the way for a future of hope for something better. Whether or not they all achieved that in their lives, the hope itself was a gift. They discovered through that discipline something about themselves that they did not know.
That is what Lent is about. Not suffering for its own sake, but disciplines that teach us something about ourselves that we didn’t know. Lent is for shifting our focus from our day to day lives to our relationship with God. It is about strengthening that relationship as we prepare for Easter. We are not in a season of punishment, but one of preparation. Self-imposed discipline can help us become more than we are. It can help us transcend what we are to become what we can be.