As a nearly life-long Christian, I find myself in a season where I am trying to see aspects of my faith through new eyes. Perhaps it is the season of life that is stretching me beyond myself so I look for new tools that the disciples of Christ have utilized for years in their soul formation.
What I love about my learnings about this tradition called Lent is that it meets me right where I am. In need of a Savior every single day, in every single moment.
My friend Amy is embarking on a journey over on her blog called Soul Simple to explore "Lent in Everyday Language" and has a new post each day where she offers two questions to process and she beautifully shares her own processing. I love that lent is this opportunity to pause and lean a little closer to being formed in Christ's image. I have been exploring a lot of Genesis and love hearing about God creating man and woman in His image. I feel like the rest of the bible centers around God pursuing us in order to make us into His image again. Sending Jesus so that we can be reconciled and made into His image (holy and blameless). I am leaning into this aspect of formation. If you are interested in taking this journey, you can start today - on Day 6. No need to panic and try to catch up. Just start right where you are. I am.
My very simple understanding of Lent is that it is the act of preparing the heart for Easter. Historically, this has taken shape in a form of sacrificing. You hear people saying what they are "giving up for Lent" and it is about sacrificing something so that we can become more like Christ and how He sacrificed His life for us. But for me there is another layer - I am viewing it not solely about forfeiting, but also about formation. It feels like an invitation to step further into being formed in Christ's image. Ann Voskamp wrote that "it is to be dispossessed of the possessions that possess - in order to be possessed by God." To empty the soul in order to know the filling of God.
So, maybe it is not about possessions like stuff (although it could be). Maybe it is more about our way of being and the thoughts, actions, emotions and routines that fill us with the opposite of WHO God is (His image).
If I know that the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control) are the fruit of being connected to God and are reflections of who He is, then I think I should be able to look at my life and see what the opposites of those attributes are that are on display in my life. That would be the area where I need more image forming.
If lent is about my emptying my soul of my own stuff in order to know the filling of God - well, then, "To the brim!" is what my soul cries out. I want to be filled to overflowing with His love and joy and peace. I can see where I need to make room for Him. Do some soul house keeping.
But, it is so hard. So hard to empty myself of my love of me and the habits that shape me into me. Hard to wake up early to find quiet time. Hard to give up that "down time" of senseless media that makes it so easy to check out in the times when I need to check in. Even those twisted sisters: fear and worry - they beckon my soul to snuggle up with a blanket of self-pity.
Isn't it true that Lent and our quest to sacrifice and "work out our salvation" will reveal how truly broken and useless we are. It is like asking for a flashlight to shine on our failures and flailing, because I will fail in this attempt! How incapable I am of walking a road of sacrifice like Jesus. Maybe one of the gifts of Lent is realizing, yet again, how in need of a Savior I am. I could work with every fiber of my being to do this perfectly, and I would fail. I need a Savior. I can see clearly that even my best attempts will result in failure. I see Jesus with a new found awe in His perfection and the gift of grace that He extends to me.
These were Ann Voskamp's words that say it so well: "Lent gives me this gift: the deeper I know the pit of my sin, the deeper I'll drink the draughts of Joy."
Doesn't Jesus say that with different words when He says, "He who is forgiven much loves much."
I found this quote on Ann Voskamp's blog. It is by Walter Wangerin, on the subject of why we celebrate Lent when it may not fall into our denominational traditions:
"But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation... The disciles approached the resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then was an explosion of newness, a marvelous slitting of heaven indeed.But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death with is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less readl.We miss the disciples terrible, wonderful preparation.Unless, as now we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care - and thus prepare for joy."
Yes, Jesus rose and defeated death and that is central to my faith. I am risen with Christ and there is no part of my salvation that I can boast in because it is all gift. That is made clearer to me even as I attempt to hone areas of my life and fall short time and again. I don't deserve salvation based on anything I have done. I fall short. It's all grace.
I do not want to miss the gravity of His death, or my need for His death, as I walk in a "Christ is risen" joy parade. Even the elements of communion, the bread and wine, symbolize this sacrifice and Jesus encouraged us to do it in remembrance of Him. I feel like my kids get this a little better than I do. It never fails that as we read the story of Jesus' death in their Jesus Storybook Bible that they will be moved to tears. They feel that moment of Jesus dying and the pain and sorrow that live in that moment. And I often find myself very quickly saying, "Don't be sad, guys! Jesus rises again! He doesn't stay dead!" But, they get it right. He died. He endured a lot of pain. For me. And, that should be felt deeply because if I don't feel that deeply, then I don't really get the sacrifice of it.
So - this season of practicing Lent, for me, is about walking toward Easter with a heart that is bent toward knowing how very much I need this Savior. It is about slowing down so I can see where God is forming me in His image. It's about having eyes to see where I am full of me and doing the work to empty that out to clear space for Him. It is about seeing every day that I need a Savior!
I loved how timely my reading from Jesus Calling was the other day.
"... Your awareness of your constant need of Me is your greatest strength. Your neediness, properly handles, is a link to My Presence. However, there are pitfalls that you must beon guard against: Self-pity, self-preoccupation, giving up. Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice - deep dependence on Me, or despair. The emptiness you feel within will be filled either with problems or with My Presence. Make me central in your consciousness by praying continually: simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment. Use My Name liberally, to remind you of My Presence. Keep on asking and you will receive, so that your gladness may be full and complete."
I hope that you will join me and Amy in this journey. Here is to living with an awareness of how much He loves us and how much we need Him.