There is no season of self-discipline in the church calendar. No period in which Christians are instructed to bear down and try to live better lives. And yet, tellingly, our hearts bend this way—to grasp for holiness with our own power.
C.S. Lewis remarks, “We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way—centered on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.” This conflict—clutching earthly pursuits while attempting to spiritually self-regulate and manage sin—is exactly what makes us miserable. “This is what Christ warned us you could not do,” Lewis explains:
Something else—call it ‘morality’ or ‘decent behavior’, or ‘the good of society’—has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call ‘right’: well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes.
As the season of Lent makes us conscious of this sinfulness, so the Church calendar as a whole reorients our attention to Christ’s presence. We are not left on our own. Christ redeems us from the wilderness of pride and brokenness. Lewis concludes:
If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short, but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”