When Nothing is Everything

What is your theme for this Lent?

Someone asked me that question this morning and I have been thinking about it all day. I think it’s a nice upgrade from the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” When I was younger, my answer was always Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups… because I love them and I eat more of them than I care to admit, thank you very much.

But now that I’m a little older, my sense of what Lent means and how best to approach it has changed. And so I think that this question: “What is your theme for this Lent?” is a good one to ponder. So, allow me to ponder out loud for a few minutes.

We spend so much of our lives building, creating, investing our time and money into something, aspiring, and acquiring. I don’t want to suggest for a minute that this is bad because when we are industrious and creative and hard working, we can accomplish a lot of very good and useful things.

On the other hand, though, it can become quite easy for everything we build up to become something that is not so very good. We can become weighed down by those things. Imprisoned even.

I’d like to ask you to consider the message in a story that the Buddhist monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, once told about an important and famous leader in his home country. This man, named Badhiya, lived in a large palace and because of his position and all he had built up in his life, had a great deal of wealth. But then he fell upon some hard times and lost everything. He lost everything.

Badhiya spoke to the monk and said: “When I was a governor, my palace was guarded by hundreds of soldiers. But I was still very afraid. I was afraid robbers would come and kill me or at least take away all my valuables. So day and night I lived in fear. But last night, I realized that now I have nothing to lose… Never in my life have I felt so safe. Nobody wants to kill me anymore because I have no power, no wealth, and no jewels for anyone to take. I have nothing. Yet I finally have everything.

“I have nothing. Yet I finally have everything.”

It is a great and important facet of Christianity to empty ourselves, to surrender, to release… not out of some strange love of poverty and hardship but because by emptying ourselves, we… like Badhiya, may find true freedom and peace. We may become unburdened of the weight and freed from the prison.

Remember that in our faith tradition, we have the fine example of John the Baptist who, upon seeing that Jesus had arrived, said to his own friends and followers: “He must increase, I must decrease.”

We also have another fine example and that is of Christ himself who, according to Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…”

We begin this season of Lent remembering that we should decrease so that Jesus might increase.

Let’s mark this not only with dark smear of ashes spread across our foreheads, but also with the realization and conviction that we should fill ourselves with the love, mercy, hope, and promises of Christ… instead of everything else that crowds all that out.

Is there something in your life that is filling you up right now… but which crowds Jesus out?

I think that’s a pretty good theme for Lent.

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