A World Without Chloroform

I got new glasses yesterday, and it was like the Wizard of Oz. 

It was hard to drive home with them because I kept reading all the signs and being distracted by how shiny the cars were and how bumpy the asphalt was. I’d been dropped into an HD world all of a sudden, with everything in focus and the blurry, musty air all cleared up. 

You forget that trees have leaves and kids have freckles—you lose sight of all the little things that make up the big things. And you get comfortable with that; you trust your eyes, even though you know they can’t be trusted. You get used to the way you look, everything smoothed out and airbrushed in the mirror. 

And now I have my new glasses, I see how gross the kitchen floor is. I see the spots on the bathroom mirror and the imperfections in my skin. I see that my hair is oily this morning. I had a moment of mortification when I realized this was what everyone else had seen for a long time, and I thought everything was fine. I welcomed people into a not-that-clean kitchen and had conferences with parents while my skin looked less-than-perfect, and my makeup game has been lacking since COVID. I wore a mask for a year and I guess I got used to the natural look.

You see where I’m going with this. We just started Lent, and Lent is the time in the church year where you focus on the things you forget during the rest of the year. You give things up, and in the absence of distractions you see your sins more clearly. People give up meat, or dessert, or coffee, or alcohol. They give up screen time and realize how much of their day is spent somewhere besides reality, in distraction. People give to the poor and realize how much of their money is spent on stupid, worthless stuff. 

Basically, it’s a time to focus on your mortality and Jesus’ eternal love that brought Him here. We have limitations, and when He was on Earth, He took those on. My students were shocked when they learned that Jesus fasted for 40 days. “How did He not starve?!” they asked in wonder.

“Well, He was God—He knew what would and wouldn’t kill him, I guess,” I answered. “Plus, He was a carpenter so He was probably in pretty good shape—,”

The truth is, you can suffer a heck of a lot without dying, as we’ve all learned the last few years.

And during Lent especially, I’ve been wondering about suffering. The last two years have felt like the Middle Ages or the New Testament—what with the plague stalking at midday and the tyrants invading small countries—and I’ve been thinking about Christians and Saints who lived back then. What did they give up during Lent, in their houses with no utilities, their world without chloroform, as C.S. Lewis says? So few distractions—at least you had to go out to buy a ticket to a chariot race in Constantinople. I can watch whatever I want with one button, and keep it on for hours. If there’s one thing I’m rich in, it’s distractions.

I’m talking like a Middle Class American in the 21st century, where we are richer than kings were a few hundred years ago, in nearly every way. Giving up coffee feels like deciding to live on a pillar, while people in the Middle Ages—and so many Christians around the world now—give up their homes and jobs and very lives because it’s that or their faith. There are things in me that need to change.

If I see things wrong in my heart, I want to address them, not ignore them. I don’t want them smudged out like my reflection when I forget my glasses. 

30-something days to go, team. 


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