The season of Lent begins rather early this year. Ash Wednesday is observed on February 17. Many people have really great intentions for Lent. This will be the year when I do something meaningful, something that will boost my spirituality or something that gets me on track to be a better person. These are all familiar and often sincere intentions for the season of Lent. Then, something happens. Lent sneaks up on people, as so often things do. Life does not go as planned. Some new situation demands our attention. Some change in the flow of life wreaks havoc on our energy or time or mood. Good intentions remain as something we will get to one day. Or for some, Lent is simply the time to repeat what has been done every year. Give up something and hope that it will have some kind of positive influence and fulfill the moral obligation that is called for during Lent. Yet, Lent should be more. Perhaps first we should be sure that we understand the meaning, purpose and call of Lenten renewal.
Lent is indeed a time of spiritual renewal. For this to be understood, we first have to be convinced that we need renewal. This is not to belittle ourselves. It is simply acknowledgment of the fundamental reality that we are finite, weak and sinful human beings. Some people have a very difficult time accepting this reality. If that is the case, think about it. Why be ashamed to admit it? Why believe that it makes any of us any less than anyone else? It is no secret. No one is perfect. No one is blemish free. No one has made all the right choices. No one is free from regrets. Again, we do not admit this reality to belittle ourselves. We do not embrace the truth of our weakness to believe that we are unlovable, unwanted or unneeded. We admit it so that we simply accept reality. We accept and acknowledge it so that we have the opportunity to grow, develop and become more. God knows the reality of our condition. God knows every detail of our weaknesses, missteps, errors, choices and God knows every sin that has weighed us down, kept us back and prevented us from being the people that God created us to be, the people we actually want to be. In such knowledge, God has not abandoned us, unfriended us or stopped caring about our welfare. Quite the contrary, because of our weaknesses, sins and bad choices, God has decided to continue to love us. Why else would God have taken on human form and come among us? Why else would God have undergone the horrible, humiliating and painful experience of crucifixion and death? Even though such a magnificent display of love did not change every heart, remove all sin and put every human being on the right path, God has not given up. God gives us more opportunities to change. God gives us more chances to turn toward God. God continues to love us, care for us and call us to the path that will help us be more like the people God intended us to be. Lent is a time to focus on the reality of God’s love. Lent is a time to acknowledge that God’s love is enough motivation for us to choose to improve, choose to grow and choose to draw closer to the One who loves us unconditionally. God has given us the season of Lent to focus on those things. We must be willing to hear the words of John the Baptist to reform our lives. We must hear the words of Jesus and believe that now is the acceptable time. We must hear those words not as condemnation, but as invitation. Lent is an invitation to embrace God’s love in such a way that we see the possibilities and take the appropriate steps to change possibility into reality. Lent, Reconciliation, and all that God has done for us call us to do more than go through life. We are called to develop a willingness and a desire to participate in the fullness of life.
So that still leaves us with the decision of what to do for Lent. Put simply, we are called to change something that prevents us from seeing the possibilities that exist within ourselves, prevents us from fully embracing God’s plan or prevents us from growing in our relationship with God. For every person the “what” to do for Lent will be different. The starting point has to be self-evaluation that examines your life to honestly accept what is getting in the way. It may be that something has to be eliminated or it may be that something has to be taken to the next level or it may be that something has to be added to your life and your relationship with God. If a person is absorbed in alcohol and alcohol is getting in the way of relationships with others and with God, it may be time to cut that out of your life. If a person with diabetes continues to consume more sugar than advised, it may be time to work on eliminating that consumption by reflecting on the damage that is being done and the worry being produced in loved ones. If a person wastes a great deal of money gambling and it is damaging relationships, it may be time to eliminate that from your life. If prayer life is simply a routine of rattling off some memorized prayers or only talking to God when something is needed or a new crisis has popped up and has become something stale, superficial or unsatisfying, it may be time to kick your prayer life up a bit. If a person becomes a maniac when getting behind the wheel of the car and creates fear to others on the road or presents a danger to pedestrians, perhaps it is time to work on understanding how such an attitude can ruin lives and even lead to death. If life is all about video games, television, texting, or social media, perhaps it is time to limit the amount of time so that relationships, responsibilities and growth do not become just a dream. If your opinion of others, events and experiences seem to mostly convey complaining, insults and unhappiness, perhaps it is time to notice the positive in people, events and experiences. If nothing is offered to help alleviate the sufferings of others, it may be time to reevaluate the basic commands Jesus has left us. Each and every one of us has a role to play in God’s plan for humanity. It is only through growing in our understanding that we can fulfill our responsibilities. The things that stand in our way of fulfillment are things that need to be changed. The things that we fail to do as disciples of Jesus need to added if we are to achieve fulfillment. The attitudes and behaviors that do not reveal possibilities stand in the way of fulfillment and must be challenged, reflected on and adjusted if we are to become the people God created us to be. No matter who we are, no matter what we have experienced, no matter what we do, we are are incomplete and require on-going conversion and growth. This is the point of Lent – acknowledge, reflect, plan, implement and sustain the changes that are required. Lent is a starting point for on-going conversion, a jumping off point. In fact, we may not finish what we begin during Lent but we must be willing to keep going after Easter so that the changes become permanent no matter how long it takes. Perhaps it is better to actually think about “what am I going to begin for Lent?” rather than “What am I going to do for Lent?”
Give Lent some thought so that you do not miss the opportunity to experience the kind of on-going conversion that will open your eyes, mind and heart to a deeper relationship with God and find some of the hidden potential that waits to be discovered in each one of us. Start a spiritual journey in some way that will be sustainable and help you to experience the feeling of being lifted up. After all, God tries to raise up up all of the time.
If you would like to share any idea for Lent, feel free to comment so that others may be inspired to incorporate something into their own Lenten discipline.