Did Lent sneak up on you this year? Every year it seems to have a way of doing that and some of us find that the season has begun without us making any decisions about how we might approach things in our spiritual lives.
One of the values of this season of preparation is that the Church encourages us to make some alterations in our daily lives so as to know God’s presence more fully. If we simply go through life hoping that God will pop in from time to time and remind us he is still around, we miss out on a lot. If we set time aside each day for prayer and reflection, we are more likely to understand God’s will. The more actively we pursue our relationship with God, usually the better the relationship is. Establishing a spiritual discipline is a good thing.
A real problem for most of us is that if we make a mistake in our spiritual discipline we quit. Many a Lenten discipline has been committed to, then given up after a snag has been hit. It’s like we think that the whole point is to prove that we can do something, or do without something, for 40 days. If we fail one day, instead of taking the discipline back up the next day, we decide we can’t do it and give up.
A spiritual discipline is not something we maintain so much as it is something we keep returning to. The point of a discipline is not to see how strong or consistent I am. The point of any Lenten discipline is to discover God’s presence more deeply. The biggest mistake we make in Lent is to make it all about us.
The people who aren’t good at “keeping Lent” have a dilemma. Will they retreat into guilt and shame and feel unworthy of God’s presence because they failed at what they said they would do or not do? Or will they lighten up a little and find God’s grace in their lives despite their inability to be perfect?
The people who are good at “keeping Lent” may have a bigger dilemma. Will they compulsively put an X on each day on the calendar and retreat into false pride about how well they did while all the lazy-good-for-nothings whined about how they couldn’t stay committed? Or will they take themselves a little less seriously and see that life is built on grace rather than reward and punishment?
So what if you haven’t started Lent yet? It’s not too late. What might you do each day that would deepen your relationship with Christ? Take on something small. Give up something small. It’s not about keeping a practice perfectly. It’s about the relationship. Sometimes starting late is the best way because it reminds us we didn’t do it perfectly.
So what if you’ve already slipped and not done what you said you would do for Lent? How might you return to that commitment? Jesus talked a lot about repenting and returning. Will do you that or are you unwilling to do something you can’t do perfectly?
And so what if you had the perfect plan for Lent and have executed it perfectly every day so far? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees! It is when we think the kingdom should only be open to people like us that we have removed ourselves from that very kingdom.
The call of Lent is an invitation. Whenever we accept the invitation, we are welcome.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Mass in B Minor
Johann Sebastian Bach
The Montgomery Chorale
With members of the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra
Saturday, April 5 – 7:00 pm
St. John’s Episcopal Church