People often don’t look forward to Lent. Childhood memories of giving up candy or sitting through the weekly Stations of the Cross come immediately to mind. Words like sacrifice, discipline or self-denial are often used in ways that suggest that Lent is something to be endured rather than a time of grace and spiritual growth.
Have you ever thought of Lent as a yearly second chance? Each year the Church gives us six weeks to take a long, loving look at our lives to see if our values and priorities are in line with God’s desires for us. Since most of us find that we’ve wandered from God’s path, Lent becomes that second chance, or do-over, to return to God with our whole heart.
We can make attempts to ensure that Lent is a meaningful time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent reflects the forty days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness tempted by Satan in readiness for a ministry destined to end in tragedy. Few of us can relate to the level of sacrifice and commitment that Jesus displayed in his forty days, yet Lent provides us with an opportunity to deepen our spirituality by engaging in regular discipline from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The wilderness, the desert days of Lent, is the true path toward spiritual transformation.
There is a compelling metaphor that helps us embrace the wilderness and prevents us from racing to Easter. It is the metaphor of the seed. Jesus began his teaching ministry with the parable of the sower and referred to seeds and trees, fruit and branches, throughout his ministry.
Seeds need a rich environment in order to grow. This applies to our spiritual growth as Christian disciples. Without challenge and inspiration, learning and service our discipleship can become stunted, stagnant or worse, dead. We can be strengthened through prayer, study, worship, fellowship and service. In God’s plan, the time things take is the right time. Yet, we become inpatient. Seeds teach us that we need to learn to wait, to develop patience. Patience is the key ingredient to transformational growth. It’s important to remember that all seeds grow at different rates. Growth is rarely even, and it is often chaotic. Nothing we do will change this diversity.
Our spiritual development progresses through stages. Our choices about how we learn and live as disciples are totally up to us. The Word of God is the information that yields this transformation. When we see Lent as the chance to love God and give ourselves the opportunity to grow, we can be transformed. We unleash the God-given power to become mature Christian disciples. The lessons of the seed help us see Lent not as a time of sacrifice and denial, but as a time of preparation and anticipation for the work to which God calls us and anticipation of the fullness of life that God promises. Perhaps then we will realize that our second chance is not only during Lent but all year long!
A few thoughts about how we prepare for Lent are to ask God these questions. What does my soul need and what about my life makes you happy? The answers give us the steps to beginning our return to God with our whole heart.