Lent. What’s Your ‘Driver’?

Lent can easily be mistaken for the season of drivenness, so it’s ironic that the first Sunday of the season is marked by Christ being ‘driven into the wilderness, there to be tempted by Satan’. (Matt. 4:1) Although the verse is more often translated as ‘led’ rather than ‘driven’, I think ‘driven’ chimes more accurately with the modern mindset. We are a very driven people.

Most of our ‘drivers’ have to do with the need to achieve and prove something to ourselves,  so Lent very quickly becomes a test of the will and of determination. It has to be got through. We have to do something about it, or that is what we tell ourselves. All this leaves very little mental space for asking why we should be doing something.  

Added to this, we mustn’t let up on any of the other things we feel obliged to do or to become – a more successful person, a more attractive and/or interesting partner, a better parent. Here I am reminded of my headmistress at school whose favourite mantra was “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. When your good is better make your better best.” Such exhortations can become life-time ‘drivers’. They also prey on our weaknesses.

Satan was not stupid when he devised his plan to try to bring Christ down in the wilderness. He used the tools that were to hand which were the natural human weaknesses that Jesus would have been prey to and which ‘drove’ him, along with the underlying fears that drive all our frenetic activity. Jesus would perhaps be thinking, as he contemplated the idea of spending forty days in the desert doing nothing at all, of time wasted, of not achieving what needed to be achieved before his allotted time on earth was over. He would have experienced anxiety, frustration, despondency, perhaps despair, as we all do in varying degrees from time to time.

Satan, the tempter, had plenty of material to work with. He could start with the quick fix – stones to bread, or jumping off cliffs and being caught up by angels. Either of these would have allowed Jesus to prove what he could do. Or the tempter could resort to the mercurial, what he calls worship. Worship can be conveniently applied to anything that involves making things happen the way we want them to happen irrespective of the cost to ourselves, to other people and even to other nations. The worship of power, along with self-reliance (which is a form of self-worship) are key elements here. If Jesus had ceded to this particular temptation he would be avoiding the slow and painful process of waiting on God whose presence, at this particular moment, seemed opaque, if he was there at all. “You can do it. You know you can. You don’t need God. Go on. Prove yourself” the tempter would be saying.

I think self-reliance, and the drivenness that goes with it, are the two most important areas that we need to concentrate on in this season of Lent. We could do this by first of all reminding ourselves of the purpose of Lent. Lent is a season of joyful preparation. It’s not quite like Advent, because the event that we are preparing ourselves for is preceded by suffering, the suffering of Christ who holds the suffering of the world as well as all the bits of suffering we carry around in ourselves and about which we are frequently in denial.

We often deny the things that really hurt by ‘driving’ ourselves forward through them, as if they didn’t exist, or at least as if we can ‘manage’ and perhaps ‘get over’ these areas of pain and need through sheer self-reliance. Sometimes the drivenness takes the form of having to prove ourselves. We have to prove that we are able to control, or have dominion over, any number of perceived needs, not all of which are bad, but most of which go unexamined. Sometimes there is the need to have dominion over, or to control, other people. (Why do we need to control others? Are we afraid of them?)

On a more personal level, there is the need to stay healthy by exercising more (how much more?), the need to earn more money than is strictly necessary for our happiness, perhaps, the need to ‘get on’ in one’s career (why? What are we trying to prove? And to whom are we proving it?), the need to efface the past by somehow making up for it. These aims and aspirations are the underlying ‘drivers’ of our separate lives. But the real ‘drivers’ lie hidden in the answers to the questions that follow them and behind these questions lies the wilderness. In other words, if we face into our imagined needs, which are whatever answers we can truthfully give to the questions I’ve just posited, we may find that the needs evaporate altogether.

So perhaps this year we could approach Lent in a different way. We could begin by taking an overview of how we spend our days. What are the things that we do because we tell ourselves they must be done? What drives us to do them? I know that I can get obsessive about dog hair. I could, if left to my compulsion, spend a sizeable part of the day hoovering. I know this is ridiculous, but I also know that it is an outworking of some kind of need to achieve perfection, to not put up with anything that is in any way flawed in my surroundings. This is, to say the least, annoying for other people. The task here then, as I see it, is not to let the house go to pot so that I can dominate my obsession with dust and dog hair, but to look at the underlying ‘driver’ and where it is coming from.

 No doubt those of you who are reading this will have other more interesting underlying ‘drivers’, but they all ultimately lead to the same place if we do not face them honestly. They lead to a false sense of having proved something, achieved something, through our own efforts. Looking back on all this self-mastery we are left feeling not only exhausted, but with a strange kind of emptiness, a wilderness, into which we will once more be driven, if we do not own the truth of what it is that really drives us.

So perhaps the most realistic and practical thing we could be doing this Lent is to begin each day in a state of loving attentiveness to how God sees us, not as persons who need to overcome things, or to achieve higher standards, unless these things or habits are a real impediment to our receiving love from others, as well as from God.  Going into the wilderness means letting go of all our ‘drivers’ and allowing ourselves to be led, rather than driven, more deeply into the love of God and of other people.

Author: Lorraine Cavanagh

Anglican priest living in Wales, UK. Author. Books include 'In Such Times - Reflections On Living With Fear' (Wipf and Stock 2019), 'Waiting On The Word - Preaching Sermons That Connect People With God' (DLT 2017), 'Finding God In Other Christians' (SPCK 2014), 'Beginning Again' (Kindle e-book 2015) All books available from Amazon

2 thoughts on “Lent. What’s Your ‘Driver’?”

  1. Staying with the ‘drive’ analogy, thank you for reminding me that neutral is sometimes where deeper clarity can be found. The hoover can wait.


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