I have always loved Lent. When I was a little girl, I used to joke that it was a Catholic’s second chance at New Year’s resolutions.
I used to always reinvent myself, telling myself in the upcoming season that I would be a better version of who I really was. Prettier, skinnier, smarter, more outgoing, etc. Lent in my younger years was a way to get serious about these reinventions, just like the month leading up to a brand-new school year, or the week before going back to school after Christmas break.
As I’ve grown older and more mature in my faith, though, I have come to the sinking realization that I am not perfect, and no resolution or Lenten promise will ever change that fact. Everyone goes through this journey at some point in their lives. This is like a reckoning, I suppose, coming to terms with our own imperfections and learning to love ourselves anyways. Some were born blessed with the wisdom and self-confidence to understand this at a very young age. Many of us, myself included, are only just now working on this concept of self-love, faults and all.
For Christians, this next step in self-awareness is accepting that Gold loves you just the way you are, too. He is proud to call you His child, no matter how many times you mess up or fail.
Not everyone gets to this step, for various reasons. The thought of an ever-loving, unconditional love that is there for you, no matter what, is a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. As hard as we try, none of us are perfect. Simply put, we are all subject to the human condition. There are times where we fail to love each other well and without hesitation. Sometimes it is just plain tough to believe in a love that you just can’t see.
Easter is the ultimate reminder of God’s love for us. God loves you (yes, YOU) so much that He was willing to give up His only Son to bear the weight and consequences of our sins to free us all so that we may be closer to God. And then, THEN, His Son rose three days after this terrible, awful day to prove that His love can conquer anything, even death itself.
I’m curious, how many times have you heard that? That last paragraph about Jesus’ sacrifice and His resurrection…have you heard it often enough that your mind glazed over a bit? I encourage you to read it again. Really sit in that truth for a little bit and explore how your heart feels:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him light not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
God so loved you that He let is only Son die so that you can be closer to God. Wow.
When that truth really sets in and takes root in your heart, it makes sense that we don’t get to celebrate such a significant event like Easter without a little reflection first.
Lent. It’s our time to reflect on our shortcomings, accept God’s unconditional love, and prepare our hearts in anticipation for the most amazing miracle.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Catholic practices during Lent: Ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday (yes, we’ve heard that “you’ve got dirt on your forehead” comment more times than we’d like to share), give up something you consider a treat (chocolate, anyone?) and no meat on Friday’s (lovingly referred to as fish Friday’s). In recent years, the Church has encouraged us to move beyond giving up sweets and focus more on our actions, like a daily act of kindness.
The concept of giving up a luxury for Lent is meant to humble us and remind us to fix our eyes on God when temptation strikes. By adopting a lifestyle of self-control and giving our hearts to God, we naturally gravitate toward becoming better versions of ourselves.
What I wish I had known then, and what I’m still grappling with now, is that what you choose to do for Lent has no bearing on how much God loves you.
Let me say that again: Whatever you choose to give up or do for Lent will not make God love you any more or any less. It won’t matter if you give up chocolate or gift $1,000 to the church, there is nothing you could do to earn more favor with God. That is not the point of Lent, or life, really.
It is not the act of giving up something or doing something that He cares about. It is the fact that whatever you choose to do, you are doing it for Him. You are directing your heart towards Him. You are opening your life for Him and allowing His love to come in and flood those cracks and dark corners of your heart with His glorious light.
Perhaps this post finds you conflicted today, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, wondering what in the world you are going to give up for Lent. Or, maybe you’re not wondering about it at all because you are still getting over the fact that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year. And now I’m bringing up God’s unconditional love and… sheesh, you haven’t even had your coffee yet, so everybody just needs to calm down.
Whatever camp you fall in, let me remind you that you don’t have to do Lent perfectly.
You don’t have to have a grand plan of giving up something, committing to a new action every day, and doing a special reflection or devotional reading every day for the next forty days.
Sit. Reflect. Listen to God. Pick one thing and do it prayerfully and with gratitude, because at the end of this journey we get to celebrate the most beautiful gift ever.
Here’s to living intentionally,