I was going to write about something slightly different today, but as I was typing on the virtues of fasting I reached for my warm, frothy latte and realized something humiliating. Espresso with hot steamed milk is one of my favorite treats in the world and it’s been over a week since I’ve had one because I gave up dairy for Lent. You may be doing the math in your head and wondering what I’m doing drinking a latte on a Friday when I gave up dairy for Lent, and that would be an excellent question. Some of our more generous friends probably just assumed that I’m using soy or almond milk, but my wife would assure you and them that I would never stoop to participate in such vulgar sacrilege. I’m convinced the ancient Hebrews turned to cattle worship in part because the milk is just that good.
No, I’m drinking a latte on a Friday in Lent because I accidentally ordered one and was halfway through it before I realized my mistake, and I’m not a legalist. I’ve got good theology that reminds me that there’s no condemnation for those in Christ. I have a habit of ordering the same thing in the same size for the same price on the same days of the week and so it was an autopilot decision for me; not an intentional flouting of my solemn vows to the Lord. I don’t deal with a whole lot of guilt in life because Jesus has freed me from the bondage of works-based righteousness. I’m not fasting to earn merit with Christ by proving my discipline power but in order that I might be more mindful of my own limitations. (Mission accomplished, I’d say!) And so I’m going to finish my silly little drink, thank God for small pleasures, and not worry about “doing penance” for this illustration of my comical lack of self-awareness.
But that’s not the end of it: I may not be dealing with guilt because I didn’t really do “wrong,” but I am dealing with something else just as powerful. This past Sunday Pastor Jim reminded us that the difference between guilt and shame is that while guilt is the painful awareness of our wrong doing, shame is the painful awareness of our wrong being. I don’t feel guilty about the latte – but I do feel ashamed. I’m ashamed that I often get grouchy or anxious over a denied treat. I’m ashamed that I couldn’t go just 6 days at a time without one, whatever the reason. I’m ashamed that so much of my life runs on habits, I can make very few conscious choices. I’m ashamed that even when I do make a conscious choice, I don’t always have the strength it takes to follow all the way through with it. I’m ashamed that I just exposed those facts to my mom and whoever else is reading this, despite the fact that you all already knew it.
This weekend we’ll continue to look at the Stations of the Cross and what it meant for Christ to endure that curse, despising its shame, for the joy set before him. It brings me a great deal of hope and peace in the midst of my vulnerability, and I hope it will do the same for you too.