E is for Endurance (an alphabet for penitents)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2

Energy may get you start, endurance is how you finish.

As I write this, we are one week into Lent, so we’re still near the start of our journey. If you made a commitment to fast in any way, or to a new discipline, you’ve likely started to bristle. A shift in habits is hard, especially if we intentionally have laid aside our go-to comforts (i.e. coffee, chocolate, sweets, etc). We are on a journey we didn’t train for. Our inner voice screams, “turn back.”

My wife and I are going vegan for Lent. Part of our this is our desire to use this sacred season to think about systems of injustice. Food systems are one of those places where injustice rears its head. While much of the world subsists on less than $2.00 a day, in America food is big bucks (except for the farmer). And you don’t have to look too hard at the meat and dairy industries to see evidence of cruelty: chickens smashed together in cages, the routine killing of dairy calves, and the slaughter of animals. All this is to say nothing of the environmental impact of factory farms—the resources burned to make the American diet possible and waste it generates. I do not plan to be vegan for life. The six weeks of Lent is as much as I am able to commit, but as I journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, I want to be cognizant of the ways my ordinary habits are complicit in systems of injustice. This is not an easy task for me. I love eggs for breakfast and a good cheese. I  woke up last Thursday dreaming of ice cream. I  already miss pizza (as a father-of-four, it is a regular part of my diet). We’ve eaten well thus far, but it is

The six weeks of Lent is as much as I am able to commit, but as I journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, I want to be cognizant of the ways my ordinary habits are complicit in systems of injustice. This is not an easy task for me. I love eggs for breakfast and a good cheese. I  woke up last Thursday dreaming of ice cream. I  already miss pizza (as a father-of-four, it is a regular part of my diet). We’ve eaten well thus far, but it is a major shift and difficult.

How do we overcome the desire to quit?  As an intermittent runner, I know I can push a distance by slowing my pace so I can push through the pain. Willpower and resolve can help you for some distances. With a Lenten fast, that might be all you need to endure. It is only six weeks; however, the journey with Jesus is not a six-week commitment but a lifetime of following. When our resolve fails, the author of Hebrews gives us a better strategy. We endure because of two things: a great cloud of witnesses and because our eyes are fixed on Jesus.

 The great cloud is our back-up. The pilgrims’ path is well worn by others who journeyed with Jesus through the season. They have shown us what it means to persist in faith. They are a network of support (not just the historic faithful, but the ones we know). They are a system of accountability, helping us fulfill our commitment.

Jesus—the pioneer and perfector (author and finisher)—is the one that makes running the race possible, and the one we are running toward. He is both our example and our ever-present help in times of trouble. We blazed the trail ahead and guides our steps. He carries us when strength fails. He helps us run for prize-communion with God.

If your steps falter, find strength in community and lean into Jesus. If a great cloud of witnesses and the Son of God got your back, you totally got this.

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