We enter the holy season of Lent today with the familiar ritual of getting ashes traced on our foreheads to mark our humble recognition that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. And for as long as we’ve observed the disciplines of Lent, we have often focused primarily on the things that we do to set this season apart from the rest of the year. “You only get out of anything what you put into it,” we have often heard from teachers and coaches when we pursued an academic education or got involved in school sports. We were assured that if we put in a fair measure of effort, we were guaranteed to get back something worthwhile.
But because of this focus on the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we may have turned Lent into an exercise in serious, frantic busyness. And in this day and age we have also recast prayer, fasting, and almsgiving into some more contemporary practices like giving up stuff we enjoy—junk food, ice cream, gossiping, being mean to people we don’t like; replacing a diet of mindless TV viewing or web-surfing with a more spiritual regimen of prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, and attentive listening; maybe not quite going vegetarian but perhaps eating less red meat; not so easily yielding to temptation and our bad habits; and being more willing to accommodate other’s faults and extend them forgiveness. I’m not saying it’s all bad. It’s just that we have turned Lent into something we do.
I’m also not saying we put a stop to all of this Lenten busyness. Instead perhaps we might consider that God himself is actually trying to accomplish some wonderful things in our lives this Lent to bring about the fulfillment of his own divine will and design. And unless we are aware of that divine will and design, or at least are receptive to what God might be trying to do, we end up getting in the way. And God’s plan for our holiness gets put on hold yet again until some other more convenient time. God is patient indeed beyond measure, but we do ourselves no favors putting off God’s awesome plan for no better reason than our selfish desire to accomplish our own will.
This Lenten season, God wants a turn at accomplishing something wonderful. God wants to transform us into a more faithful likeness of his Son in his obedience, his total offering of self, and his yearning to heal, restore, and reconcile all creation to himself. We’ve had a few years of doing Lent our way, some of us more than others. We could perhaps take a step back this year and give God room to do Lent his way.
We need to look at Lent from a different perspective. God isn’t asking us to fill our day with busy work, or to check a number of things off a Lenten to-do list. It’s not like we’re trying to complete some collector’s set of ceramic figurines or some video series of superheroes and their adventures. Rather we are looking to lend God a hand at transforming us into a more faithful likeness of his Son. In the end, we really need to ask ourselves, how does anything we have done in so many years of Lenten observance, and anything we were planning to do this Lent truly assist God in the fulfillment of his divine will and design?
We could spend some time today or the next couple of days reflecting more deeply on God’s plan to transform us into a more faithful likeness of his Son. Perhaps we are already aware of some things in ourselves that actually point away from the person of Jesus and his mission of healing and reconciliation in the world. When we are more concerned about feeding our ego than actually serving our neighbor, we might be doing some very good things for exactly the wrong reason. Every time we draw attention to ourselves needlessly, sometimes thinking nothing of pointing to how awesome we are for giving up chocolate or for putting up with troublesome family members, we are doing nothing less than begging for sympathy or validation or applause from others. And when other people take notice of our good deeds, we need not expect any recompense from God. We have already received our reward.
Jesus tells us every time we restrain ourselves from blowing our trumpets and stepping into the spotlight, our Father in heaven does notice what we do. And because the Father sees what no one else sees, we do the noble thing to fulfill his divine will and design. We should seek no earthly reward. We do what we do for the glory of God’s name alone.
When we do what God desires, we imitate Jesus in his obedience. When we take the lowest and least glamorous place; when we set aside our pride, our possessiveness, our lust, our jealousy; when we embrace our crosses, our trials, our hardships and inconveniences with peace of mind and trust in God’s enduring care, we imitate Jesus in his offering of self. When we extend friendship and compassion to the lost, the lonely, the broken, and the outcast, we imitate Jesus in his yearning to heal, restore, and reconcile all creation to himself. And in the larger scheme of things, how exactly does giving up chocolate fulfill the divine will and design? or reading the bible from cover to cover? or watching less trashy TV? or going vegetarian?
God wants to accomplish wonderful things in our lives this Lent to bring about the fulfillment of his divine will and design. We’ve done Lent our way every year thus far, just saying a few more prayers, and giving up random things we enjoy, and giving away a few things we haven’t used in a while. But God wants to transform us into a more faithful likeness of his Son in his obedience, his total offering of self, and his yearning to heal, restore, and reconcile all creation to himself. Maybe for Lent this year, we can take a chance and let God do Lent his way.
What God is trying to accomplish this Lent will likely not change us overnight. We will not be perfect tomorrow. But if we open our hearts to what God desires for us, to encounter the living Word in sacred scripture, to turn our hearts away from anger and jealousy and pride and lust, to extend to our neighbor what gives life, to forgive and ask forgiveness, to seek what is pleasing to God rather than what pleases us, we just might experience a renewal of our hearts this Lent. We have to trust that God knows what God wants to accomplish. I say we let God do Lent his way for a change.
Rolo B Castillo © 2020