Walking the halls of a local elementary school, one of the colorful learning aids in the hallway caught my eye. It’s an acronym of the word “Think,” to help kids (and teachers?) slow down and THINK before they speak:
is it True? is it Helpful? is it Inspiring? is it Necessary? is it Kind?
I wish these questions would be posed in adult forums as well as elementary schools!
In the garden, humanity is on a journey of thought. Humanity begins with thinking that God’s word alone is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind. At the turning point of the story, they begin to doubt and question God’s word. They wonder if there are other words they might trust, words from other sources, from their own minds. This is the story of humanity’s journey between trust and doubt of God.
God settled the human in the garden to farm it and care for it. There was this crafty snake, though. The snake asked Eve a tricky question:
Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?
(Gn.2:15-17, 3:3. CEB)
The question shows insight into the human mind – a fascination with limits, with what we cannot have. What kind of God would put you in a beautiful garden and tell you not to eat its lovely fruit? The question is crafty because it captures the human mind with a perspective totally opposite of what God said to the humans.
The snake begins the conversation focused on the limit: Did God really say you shouldn’t? …
But God first spoke to humanity in abundance: Eat your fill! …
The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” (Gn.2:16-17)
God offered abundance (Eat your fill!), with a limitation, a warning about danger to the humans. The snake turns the humans to focus solely on that limit. What makes that the boundary? Why NOT eat that fruit? Who is this God, and what do the Lord’s commands mean, anyway? Eve becomes fascinated by the limit.
As you begin the journey of Lent, you may be fascinated by the limit you chose, if you practice Lent through giving up something you love. Chocolate is a classic thing to sacrifice during Lent. In the first week or two, it seems as though nothing exists apart from that lovely candy bar in the check-out line. Oh CHOCOLATE! If only I could eat you. I can’t wait for these 40 days to end! How will I make it without one little bite of chocolate?
If we looked at Lent from a God perspective, though, we would tell ourselves, “I can eat anything! (except chocolate) There is an abundance of opportunity. Maybe I’ll try new foods and expand my palate.”
God’s commands to us are about God’s abundance. When God gives a word of limitation, it is about God’s desire that we have life and have it abundantly.
The tree in the middle of the garden had no magic about it, no poison in its fruit. It was about limit. God’s limit for humanity is not stifling, but rather life-giving (“Eat your fill… but stay away from the thing that will kill you”). The limit says, “I made you. You are mine.” There are differences between Creator and creature. The creatures, the humans, get to have a loving provider. We get to have a God to lean on, to learn from, to walk with.
Setting a small limit during Lent, giving up something, causes us to pause and THINK. Sometimes we come to the end of 40 days and notice the thing we gave up was not True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind, or at least not to the extent we once thought. We rely on it less, or not at all, after a 40 day journey of thinking and prayer.
This journey of Lent, including the times that we doubt, struggle, fail, and pray for strength, is about drawing closer to our Creator, being more full of the Holy Spirit, and becoming more like Jesus: the One who is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind. We do this not by breaking our limits, but acknowledging them.