by Reverend Amanda,

As a student, I despised test taking. I place such great pressure upon myself to ace any test that I take that my own intense anxieties at times trip me up even on things I know inside and out. If I had a choice between taking a test or writing a 20-page paper, I would choose the paper any day. Papers are less anxiety causing for me. I can take my time and really ponder the topic at hand knowing there really is no right or wrong answers with paper writing and certainly no trick questions. One day in the winter of 2007 as I took an intercession course in seminary, I had a professor, Dr. Dick Dickey, who changed all that for me. He said something that I have held onto for all these years.

He said, “The important things in life are not graded. Life and ministry are pass/fail. No matter how much you try, how much you study, or how much you memorize, some days you will fail and other days you’ll pass. You just hope you pass more than you fail”. This was shocking for someone who tended to be a perfectionist and wanted to always get the highest grades. In that moment, I felt the pressure almost immediately lift, as what he said made logical sense to me. At that time, I was so weighed down by expectations in my life, mostly self-imposed. The pressure I put upon myself was so heavy that I was burning out. I was trying to be perfect in every way and in that striving, I was dying inside.

In seminary, I struggled with darkness. I was addicted to running, not being able to go a day without a 6 mile running, I was struggling against a burgeoning eating disorder, with intense anxiety of eating more that an apple a day or eating in front of anyone. My expectations of myself were killing me and I was scared. This is what our expectations do to us. I was deeply unhappy and I was failing in life though not on paper. Dr. Dickey unknowingly gave me permission to lift some pressure, I began to loosen up on myself and within a few years I was able to eat in front of people without anxiety. I needed to redefine what it meant to be successful in life.

Lent is the perfect season to stop what we are doing and to refocus ourselves on God and what he calls us to in life. It is a time to reprioritize our spiritual health and not worry so much about expectations of perfection. There is no grade on life and faith. The opinions of those around us or sometimes the expectations we place upon ourselves occasionally need to be set aside to discover just what God has in store for us in his mission in this world. God’s call in our lives often falls outside of our control, outside perfectionism, and in a realm that allows for growth as individuals and communities. Lent is the time to experiment with our faith and to spend time seeking God. There is no right and wrong way to do that.

Christ struggled against expectations and pressure just like the rest of us. His temptations in the wilderness reflect that. He had to grapple with trying to live up to what generations of people expected of him as Messiah or to set aside those expectations and to just allow for God to act through him to address the true needs of humanity.  By offering bread to a fasting man, that represents a Messiah that assumes a role that would fulfill his own needs and the popular hopes of a Messiah at the time. The people of Israel hoped for a Messiah who would ensure their future by bringing prosperity back to a country that suffered from famine brought on by the wild swings from flood to drought their country experienced. Christ needed to choose not to satisfy the needs of the starving in his country simply by feeding them.

Christ then was tempted by saying if he chooses a militaristic role as Messiah he would have dominion over the nations of the world, nations that have ruled over Israel for thousands of years. Christ was being offered the opportunity to reverse the oppression his people suffered and as many people hoped inflict the same oppression on their oppressors. Jesus had to decide not to cave to vengeance but rather to address the spiritual needs that such oppression had caused.

Finally, Christ is tempted to test God thus showing that he is in-fact the chosen one of God, the promised Messiah. This would then force Christ to become worldlier and again he refuses. Christ was called time and time again to keep himself focused on the true need of his people and that need was not primarily physical, although there was plenty of physical suffering. Their need was so much deeper. Their spiritual need had to be addressed so that true wholeness and healing could occur. To truly have overall health, we need to refocus ourselves on God. We need to resist the pressures of the world around us pressuring us to fit in to the expectations of others. We need to build our self-worth, our identities, on something more than expectations, on something more lasting, on something that offers to complete us. And we achieve that through a faith in Christ, by following his teachings. T.F. Hodge writes, “You cannot build a dream on a foundation of sand. To weather the test of storms, it must be cemented in the heart with uncompromising conviction”.[1] Let’s work to focus our lives on the teachings of Christ, a faith in something more, and allow God to act through and in us as he sees fit and, in the process, we’ll gain self-confidence, self-love, and a life defined by God and not humanity. Now is the time to deny the expectations the world places upon us. Now is the time to follow the call of God reaching out to heal us and complete us this Lenten season. Remember the words of our Psalmist from this morning, “I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation”.[2] Our God has promised to guide us, lead us, protect us, and give us salvation. Outside of all that everyone else’s expectations fall short

[1] T.F. Hodge, Within I Rise: Spiritual Triumph Over Death and Conscious Encounters with “The Divine Presence”, November 23, 2009. 21st century author.

[2] Psalm 91:15-16, NRSV.