Lent. What a peculiar time in the Christian calendar. It’s the annual season of surrendering chocolate and coffee. I’m confident that’s what God had in mind when Jesus was facing temptation and starvation in the wilderness – “In due time, my Son, people will remember your suffering by cutting back on sugar. Your present afflictions will lend themselves to greater glory in my people, so don’t lose hope.” The 40-day span from Ash Wednesday to Easter (not counting Sundays) was meant to remind us of the value of repentance. Not the fire-and-brimstone condemnatory repentance – the word “repentance” is translated from Greek metanoia, signifying a transformative change of heart. Repentance is about turning to the right path, turning to walk in the footsteps of “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Lent was meant to be a practice of humility, of abandoning our comforts and desires to remind ourselves where our true allegiance lies. Today, I see most practicing “lenters” viewing the discipline as a fun challenge or a nice look-at-me-being-all-goody-goody pat on the back. Others, either jaded or apathetic, don’t find a reason to practice it at all. In fact, I see this trend throughout the Church and in Christian tradition. “I’ll pray about it” has become the quintessential Christian cop-out, Sabbath is next to non-existent (for myself as well), and the radical revolutionary Jesus Christ has become much more “my best friend” than “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Don’t get me wrong – best friend Jesus isn’t a bad way to view the humble and relational God who cares about all of your smallest struggles and joy. It is, however, a diluted representation of the wildfire that is God, ravenously searing open plains in search of the lost sheep and to defend the vulnerable.
Lent is a reminder that in our myopic bubble of individualism and self-determinism, there is a God beyond our wildest imagination whose grandeur makes us absolutely and unequivocally nothing in comparison, yet who calls us by name and gives us our worth as children of the Most High. If we were to truly understand this - to truly grasp the significance of God and God’s love - we would collapse in a heap of awe and prostrate ourselves shamelessly in the dirt in total submission. So whether we represent it with ash on our faces and sacrificial self-discipline or a renewed dedication to meaningful prayer, may we in this Lenten season hold in our hearts the greatness of our God.