Lent begins a forty-day journey which commemorates Jesus’ forty days in the desert. As Christians we have an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God during Lent by sharing in Christ’s passion and suffering. This seems easier said than done.
In his book, “How Big Is Your God?”, Paul Coutinho writes “a consequence of my life with God is essentially a dying, a giving up, and a self-emptying.” He goes on to say, “Jesus promised to give us inner freedom, joy, and happiness that no one and nothing can take away from us, even in the midst of tremendous pain, suffering, sickness, and death.”
Pretty heavy stuff. Couldn’t I just get some ashes on my forehead and give up meat on Fridays during Lent? I could even pray extra hard. Because dying, giving up and self-emptying seems like a little more than I care to tackle. What to do? What to do? Coutinho talks about swimming in the ‘River of the Divine’. I love his words but I’m struggling to put this into action. Most days I feel pretty distant from anything divine.
Perhaps this is why I need Lent. Maybe my journey is meant to be a struggle. A challenge. A reminder that God loves me as I am, but I could do more. I am made in God’s image, but my humanity requires that I accept and even embrace my limitations and my sinfulness. I also must accept the fact that because I have free will, I can choose to love God or not. Faith is a choice. Lent should be an opportunity not a burden.
At times I’m angry and discouraged by the world in which we live. I must admit that I don’t always feel God’s loving presence. The injustice of poverty, racism and gender discrimination is heartbreaking. The ongoing sexual abuse by Catholic priests is appalling. Our president and our congress treat immigrants and asylum seekers as pawns in their political battles. As a society we seem to have become numb to the pain of others. I desperately need the inner freedom, joy, and happiness that Jesus has promised.
Refraining from meat and making other sacrifices during Lent is not a bad thing. Giving to charity and serving others is certainly admirable. But I’m also going to try to get to the “desert” this year. After I face my temptations; after I acknowledge my weaknesses; after I empty myself of pride; I hope to jump into that ‘River of the Divine’. And if I’ve eaten a few meatless meals and served some folks who are less fortunate, while on my journey, so much the better.