Falling Forward in Lent
With Lent just around the corner, another opportunity for us to refocus our energies and prayer life on God is about to arrive. Lent provides an excellent opportunity for us to do some spring cleaning in our soul.
There's a danger to Lent, however. Naturally, anything that lasts more than a few days challenges our abilities to focus on a goal or a project. Focus, however, is not the enemy during Lent. The real enemy is discouragement.
A few days before Ash Wednesday, or perhaps even on Ash Wednesday, we decide how we'll observe this Lent. It might be by abstaining from something, adding something to our lives, or even a commitment to participate in additional liturgies, Stations, or the Easter Triduum. As of today we have 6 days to go until Lent starts, and we know that the further in advance that you set your goals, the higher probability that you’ll have success.
Regardless of how diligent you are, there will be times of failure this Lent for you. You won't bat .1000 and you won't fully keep your pledges. For most of us, the first failure will happen within a week of Ash Wednesday. What will define your Lent, what will define your preparations for the Easter celebration, will be how you respond to that failure.
Approaching any situation with a dose of reality makes a big difference and can help put you in a position to make better choices. Recognizing the fact that you won't keep your Lent promises perfectly will help you to better cope with reality when it sets in.
I'd encourage you to not take a legalistic approach to the Lenten season. Instead, I'd encourage you give something up, out of love. I'd encourage you to take something on, out of love. I'd encourage you to participate in more liturgies, out of love.
When we do something out of love rather than out of obligation, our mindset changes. We're better able to move past failure because we so fervently want to continue to express our love. I love Alison, so when I fail to take good care of her, I don't just throw up my hands and never try again. No, I feel a tinge of remorse and try even harder to serve her better moving forward. The same should be true for us in Lent.
Spend this Lent contemplating the crucifixion and your role in it. Our sins today transcend time and caused, in some part, the necessity of the crucifixion. Ponder also the great love that God has for you, that He'd go through all of that so that we might have a chance at living with Him forever. Consider also the comfort that you can give to the crucified Christ through your good works and signs of love, fidelity, and affection.
One other exercise that I've found particularly edifying in recent years is to read a book during Lent that relates to the events of Easter. "Killing Jesus" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard or "Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week" by Pope Benedict XVI are two excellent choices. Really get lost in the historical events of Holy Week. Put yourself in the shoes of an observer and experience the reality of what happened and how it happened. You'll walk away with a much deeper appreciation of the significance of the Paschal Mystery, as well as the graphic nature of the events that surround it.
I wrote a few days ago that you should make this Lent matter. Recognize Lent for what it truly is, a chance to start fresh; a chance to clean out the cobwebs and get back to basics.