It’s that time of the year when many western Christians in liturgical churches attend an Ash Wednesday service and receive ashes on their forehead, a reminder that we are dust (referring to our creation) and to dust we shall return. (That takes the wind out of the sails of pride, at least until the ashes are washed off!)
Lent began in the early church as preparation for Resurrection Sunday of converts for baptism, as well as those who were separated from fellowship to be reconciled.
The weeks approaching the observance of the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus soon became a church-wide time of preparation with self-examination and repentance.
In my young teen years, my Roman Catholic friends couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. So, they’d plan parties to be sure to run until midnight, when they could feast on a burger with the rest of us, then we’d all head home.
At some point I joined the many in my church who gave up something for Lent, the most common being chocolate. The mindset was, the more you liked it, the holier you’d be if you gave it up.
Later I heard a caveat that Sunday, reflecting Resurrection day, is a feast day, so you could indulge on that day. That seemed like cheating, but I guessed it helped the struggling. The whole business wasn’t spiritual for me. It seemed more like a carnival game: Sin? Now you see it, now you don’t.
But this Wednesday I will be called:
“to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and mediating on God’s holy Word.” Book of Common Prayer
Good, healthy activities for the spirit.
I want so much to observe a holy Lent. A couple of years ago I felt strongly that I had to give up social media and online games, namely Facebook, Words with Friends and FreeCell, which can eat up a lot of time. Seeing how hard it was to do that let me know they held too high a place in my priorities. A worthwhile exercise, for certain.
The next year, after learning from Ann Voskamp and others about the value of a thankful heart, I decided I would both give-up and add-on for Lent. I gave up griping and complaining, and sought to add gratefulness to my conversations.
I thought I was just been realistic. But I saw that too many conversations reminded me of something sad, harmful or tragic from my childhood, which I felt needful to share to break free of the secret-keeping tradition, or warn another from hard lessons learned. Oh, my, it’s difficult to change those patterns!
(Note: The secret–keeping in abusive homes is harmful, blocking healing and allowing the abusers all the power. But talking about it over and over, years beyond therapy or confession, is only reenacting the pain, not setting anyone free.)
Each year I’d do an above average job of keeping my Lenten intents, but usually slipped back into old behaviors afterwards.
I’d take another lap around Mt Sinai, like the Hebrews who left Egypt but never made it to the Promised Land. Never enjoyed the life God had saved and rescued and delivered them for.
Always sensing that I’m not good enough.
After the physical struggles of the past two years, my time of unsought-for-spiritual schooling, as I approach Lent this year, I see “A holy Lent” in a new light.
The brighter light of grace.
My husband and I both grew up in performance oriented homes. (That is probably the norm for our generation, and why Baby Boomers have accomplished so much.) My position in the dysfunctional family was the worker bee, the one who tried to hold everything together, to make everything right.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to turn that off, especially in regards to my self-worth. I fall in bed a night, exhausted and relaxed after proper “sleep hygiene.” Then I close my eyes and pull up a movie of my day, in full color, seeing the errors of my way or words, freezing frames, wishing so much for an edit, or repeat performance, to get it right, as if I could “do the things left undone” and undue the things I “ought not to have done.”
All in my head.
That doesn’t make for great sleep.
Why is it that we can so quickly switch from receiving God’s love and grace to thinking we have to polish our shoes and shine our halos and make ourselves worth the Passion of Christ?
The lesson I have been hearing, month after month, and want so much to really take to heart is that I can’t do anything to be better than I am. God loves me, always has and always will, and nothing I can do will make Him love me more, or love me less.
Certainly, I can do things to show my gratitude and share the love, but NOT TO EARN THAT LOVE! No creeping to the top of 1,000 stone steps on bare knees, hoping my blood will earn a kind welcome.
No number of church services attended, offering given, acts of kindness performed, or Bible verses studied or memorized will make Jesus grin any bigger or stretch his arms any wider in welcome. All that comes from his heart. From the heart of Love.
My children and grandchildren are so different from each other, and whether or not they perform or “reach their potential” or any of the parameters we human beings are so fond of, I love them each passionately, uniquely. Always have. Always will.
And God is such a better parent than I am!
“We are not beggars on the one hand or spiritual customers on the other; we are God’s children, and we just stay before Him with our broken treasure or our pain and watch Him mend or heal in such a way that we understand Him better.” Oswald Chambers, Christian Discipleship, V2
So instead of so much striving I will bring my broken treasure, and at times my pain, and seek the face of the One who sees me, always.
The holy Lent I seek this year is being wholly, gratefully aware of the grace of every breath I take. Of the Love that cushions my heart. And will one day welcome me home, no matter how I perform today, or tomorrow.
Are you planning to observe Lent this year? What will that look like for you?