I think that it’s fitting that my article in January was about new years resolutions, and now my March article coincides with the beginning of Lent – another season that is well known for its focus on self-improvement. Maybe this is sign that what the world really needs is a Lutheran self-help book! I’m not sure if that would make the best seller list.
I love the season of Lent. Beautiful purple paraments adorn the walls of the sanctuary. The hymns we sing take on a minor key and a mournful melody. It is a season of introspection and self-reflection. A chance to stop. In the midst of this busy world that is constantly pushing us to look forward, to keep moving, keep going, regardless of if we have long since wandered off the road, Lent is an opportunity to pause, take stock, reflect, and repent.
The meaning of that word repent has been somewhat distorted over the years. It does not mean that we are supposed to punish ourselves, to deny ourselves things that make us happy, and that somehow our suffering/misery will make us more worthy in the eyes of God. Sadly, this is what most people think of when they think of Lent. People who rarely ever attend church are still familiar with the concept of giving something up for Lent. Now if you use Lent as a motivator to make a life change that you’ve been meaning to, then that’s great! But what usually ends up happening though, is we pick something we love (but not too much, maybe a 7 out of 10), give it up for Lent, are miserable for a few weeks, and then Easter comes (that is, if we have even made it that far) and then start right back up where they left off, maybe even a bit more to make up for lost time.
The truth of the matter is that there is not a single thing that we can do to make God love us any more or any less. We are all God’s beloved children, and we are all afforded the unmerited, undeserved, unconditional grace and love of God. Now, that being said, God certainly does have hopes and desires for how we might live out our lives, ways that God wishes we would act when interacting with others as well as with ourselves. Think about what the things are that are getting in the way of you being the person God knows that you can be. Are there certain behaviors or actions or thoughts that impede your movement towards being that person? What is it that stands between you and God? How have you strayed or wandered from God?
That is what repentance is about. Repent means to “turn around.” There is movement and action inherent in the word. It means that we are called to turn back towards the God from whom we have wandered. Sometimes that might mean giving up certain things in our lives – a behavior, a substance, a way of thinking. There’s no need to limit yourself to only refraining from the typical choices like chocolate or caffeine. Get creative, think bigger! Maybe this Lent you are feeling called to give up responding out of anger, or making assumptions about others, or allowing others to undermine and determine your self-worth. Or it might mean that rather than give something up, you are feeling called to take on something new – daily meditation, prayer, or time spent reading the Bible, just to suggest a few.
However you decide to spend this Lent, I hope that it results in real, substantial growth and change that continues far beyond the finish line of Easter. I hope that you are able to engage in spiritual practices that bring you into a closer relationship with God. I hope that these 40 days might be for you a chance to better yourself, not so that you might earn God’s approval, but simply because God wants to see you thrive and live your best life. May you work on becoming the best you that you can be during the Lenten season.