As we think about the season of Lent, we realize that there are many different ways in which we are prepared for the life that God has in mind for us. I see Lent as a time for raising our consciousness–a time for becoming intentional and using discipline. I appreciate that this time of consciousness raising comes around every year. I need to be reminded again and again. With this reminder comes the chance to be reflective---reflection on the past in order that I might be more properly intentional as I go forward.
As I look back over my life, there have been obvious times of preparation. I remember every time that I went out for a team sport, there was a time to prepare. If I made the team, I began by going to practice. Nobody plays a game the first day the team comes together. Day after day, I worked on the fundamentals. I never saw practice as drudgery; I loved playing. If you see practice as part of playing, then it is not bad news.
All of the foreign languages that I have learned involved times of preparation. Some folks hate learning another language. Americans have a bad attitude about any need for another language. I did not share this attitude. I knew there would be work as I had to learn new words–new ways to create sentences. I had to get used to hearing different sounds. But what a thrill, after I learned, to live life in a new and different way!
Both of these examples–playing sports and leaning a new language–involved times of preparation---often frequent and demanding times of preparation. They are good examples to have a sense of what Lent is about. Lent is like basketball practice or word drills in German. Some of us might be disappointed that Lent only prepares us for the life that God has in mind. We would rather skip Lent and go straight to life! We might as well ask God to begin with grace!
For most of us, this skipping of Lent is not practical. If I do not choose Lent to prepare this space for God, I may fill my emptiness with other silly or meaningless things. Lent is not the object. God and the life that God has in mind are what I am choosing. Perhaps it is difficult to imagine life in any other fashion than we currently lead it. Again most Americans have it pretty good already. If we already have plenty, there is not much of a sense of “more.”
But maybe the “more” is not about money, leisure, etc. The Lenten-Easter season is not about that kind of “more.” It is about a different kind of life---a different ordering of life. And that can be a problem. Often, when I want to choose the life that God has for me, I do not know what exactly I am choosing. Lent is that time to prepare for what God has in mind.
Lent is that time in which I prepare to give myself wholly over to God and the Divine will. Once more that might seem a little scary. I have worked fairly hard all my life to have most things in my control. As the old adage would have it: if I can control something, then I don’t have to trust it! And yet, if I am honest, I know that I am not really in control. We know at some deeper level, we are sitting ducks for various maladies that can come our way. We know that health is not always in our control. I know that for a fact.
Of course, it is possible to live with the illusion that we are in control. And many of us are lucky for a while that the illusion seems to be fairly true. But we are vulnerable. Illusion is never fact. Our only choice is in what to have faith. I have chosen to place faith in God. That will never become fact; faith is always faith. And I am learning to be ok with that. Since it is faith, I don’t waste time trying to prove it to others or to myself. To live in faith is to trust God.
And it means trusting God’s desire for me. That is what the Lenten season means to me. It is a chance again to prepare myself to trust the God in whom I have faith. In fact, that is how I read the New Testament passages about Jesus in the wilderness. That was for him a time of testing. He was offered stones to make bread. He was offered power to make a name for himself. He modelled what faith demands. His time in the wilderness was a testing of his vulnerability. He stayed true to the faith that would see him through his ministry and, oddly, to his death.
Faith was and always is a willingness to stay focused in the present. It is only in the present that we can experience the Presence that is God. I know all too well how easy it is to live in the present with no sense of God’s Presence. I can affirm it is possible to live in the present with Absence! Ultimately, that will be a sad life with no meaning. I don’t want that and have chosen this Lenten season to work on it.
Lent is my time for preparing for Presence. To do so means spending time in discipline to get in spiritual shape. Part of the discipline is learning about God and waiting and watching for now God’s will or desire becomes manifest to me to know. It is a time of learning how to pray as Jesus prayed and as Jesus taught us how to pray.
It is learning that I can pray: “Thy will be done.”