Denying rights. Denying truth. Denying evidence. Denying facts. Denying time. Denying friendship. Denying entry. Denying access. Denying knowledge. Denying space. Denying grace. Denying sunlight. Denying air. Denying growth. Denying opportunity. Denying sovereignty. Denying safety. Denying food. Denying life.
Denial is always in opposition to something else.
Nearly every single instance of denial I can think of, it is a power in the position of privilege denying something to a person or group with less privilege. The only thing I can think of that is reversing the power dynamic is when protestors physically put their bodies in the way of something that would otherwise destroy something.
The Dakota access pipeline comes to mind. But those protestors are putting their bodies in the way of construction that could well do away with the indigenous peoples’ access to clean water. Someone will not have something in the end.
For Lent, we are called to a time of penitence and self-denial. It is a time of looking at our own needs and desires in an effort to turn them towards the desires of God. It is a holy practice, but the holiness comes from our own self-denial, not a judge that is keeping watch over us forcing us to deny what is good for us. There are no Lent police. (Or if there are, they are not doing it for holy reasons.)
Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I gave something up for Lent. The three years I was in Div school, it seemed I always gave up my health. (Though, thinking about it deeper… I probably should have had an allergy test…) Now, with a toddler, I am constantly giving up my comfort, personal space, time, and even the food off of my plate when in her presence. I have been able to take up some things, some prayer and reading that have added to my observation of this holy season, but it has been minimal at best.
As a parent, sometimes I do have to tell my daughter “no” in order to keep her safe or healthy. There is information I have that she has not learned yet. There are things I know that she cannot yet understand. I am denying her the short happiness in order that she may have a more full life.
But on a large scale, we are not each other’s parents. (Thankfully) My parents are not constantly granting me limits, keeping me from what I want to be doing. (It’d be a little hard since we live two states from each other. And that I am an adult…) As a society we trust each other to live within the bounds that we have created for safe living, but still there are ways that we seek to deny others the lives that they are seeking to live.
When we deny things from others, we rob them of good things. We rob ourselves as we make the world a poorer place. Denial is the opposite of giving. It limits, when we are invited to expand.
As Christians, I think the question we need to ask as we come to the close of this Holy Lent is what practice of denying can we seek to end?
What can we take the lead on and open up, rather than limit?
Where do we need to give of ourselves so that others can flourish?
I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know that we have plenty of work to do.