Ash Wednesday is nine days away, and for that I am both thankful and relieved. It means I have a head start in discerning how to observe the journey toward Easter known as Lent. And of course, the journey toward Easter also includes Good Friday—a fact which, if I really take it in, changes everything.
I have always understood Lent as something to be observed in community—that’s the good news. The faith tradition to which I belong marks the start of this season with believers lining up to receive ashes on their foreheads and to hear the priest’s words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Or, “Turn away from sin, and believe in the Gospel.” It’s totally okay if you disagree with this practice. Even within my own tradition, it’s not a requirement. The point is, we were created for community, and this is one way I observe Lent.
Yet too often, I don’t start seriously thinking about this season until the night before it starts (reminds me of that bumper sticker, “Jesus is Coming—Look Busy”). Some years go better than others. The year I gave up listening to my car stereo, I discovered (eventually) God’s still, small voice in the silence—a discovery that hasn’t left me, at least not entirely. The year I made a vague resolution to "do more good deeds," well, I can’t recall a single one. And not because I’m so humble that I forgot what they are—I’m not sure I actually did any.
So while I’m determined this year to make Lent more intentional and more fruitful, I’m finally realizing that Lent is, among other things, a journey for two, not one—and I’m not the One in charge. If these word are obvious, they’re also foreign to my Type A, Gen X, American entrepreneurial fallen nature, which tends to treat Lent and sometimes life itself as a set of achievements, instead of an ever-deepening walk with Christ. Deep breath.
So my Lenten theme this year will be 1 Samuel 3:9 (“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”). How will this play out? I don’t know yet, which is why I’m asking Him for direction. I do know that the very act of asking, and turning things over to Him, changes things—and changes us. Whatever Christ asks me to give up, I’m guessing it won’t be chocolate (I’m sort of hoping not). I have a feeling it’ll be something more along the lines of Pride. And yet I’m also trusting Him to be more specific. For example, praying daily for humility. Or turning off my BlackBerry. Or both.
Who am I kidding? He’s asking for Everything. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.’” (Mere Christianity) Funny how we never see this on an Easter card.
Yet as Christ-followers, we know Lewis is right—and that the project of dying to self continues every hour of our lives. Lent gives us the opportunity to experience Christ’s death and resurrection in a deeper way—and with it, our own need for ongoing conversion. Let the journey toward Easter begin.