The season of Lent (a time of spiritual introspection, repentance and realignment with God) is almost here, it flows from Ash Wednesday. Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent.

In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out beauty and grace, replacing them with rules, regulations and legalism.

Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity to sin wildly before the obligatory season of fasting from vice and repentance began.

Isn’t that generally what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our spiritual life.

For instance, when a marriage becomes a contractual exchange,  love is something that is earned as a result ot of certain actions having been performed. Contractually, if certain actions are not performed, or are not executed to the expectation(s) of the other person,  love is then contractually withheld until those things are accomplished. Rather than a love relationship, this is a contract based on rules.

A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenantal love knows that things don’t always happen or transpire the way we want, desire, or expect. However, when the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused or given regardless of contractual performance.

You also see the Fat Tuesday effect result in selfishness, or hyper-individualism in marriage when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.”  Since he/she went above-and-beyond their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge in some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!

This is how contractually we live. The end result of contractual living, or religious living, is the creation of Fat Tuesday’s. When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it!  Religion creates

Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos’ and don’ts devoid of their real meaning and transformative power.

When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, and beautiful like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of  duties to appease God into liking us again…This is miles from the God revealed through Christ.

Living in a rhythm of daily alignment, realizing that God is for us, not against us, stopping to have a relational conversation of confession, repentance when we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we realize God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”

In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.

Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent. Not in such a way that I am compelled to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, longing for a season where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled I simply showed up!

Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds an outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously.

God intends that we experience fun, joy, laughter, and good times…the become powerful faith-producing memories to help us go through the more painful days and trials. The religionists seem to think that the stern pietic life of sin management is all that God wants us to experience: ”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”

As I think of Jesus, and many of his relational interactions, I am reminded how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor, that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek, He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided Fat Tuesday mistakes while enjoying all the celebrations of  life.

So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.

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