“It’s Lent again!” many of us will say as Ash Wednesday approaches. We know what Lent is about. We know the call for sacrifices and the need for more prayer, penance, and almsgiving. But I wonder if we want to ‘do’ Lent differently this year? To make our way through Lent in better ways than in previous years?
I wonder too about us and many other people with SSA because Lent can be a challenging time. We want to come home to God, to be closer to Jesus and to live more in his Spirit. Somehow we struggle to do this because we feel that we are not good enough because we have SSA or we have fallen into sin because of our struggle with SSA.
Yet one of the best promises in Scripture is that God will restore the sinful person. “Come back to me with all your heart… for I am gracious and deeply loving as a mother, quick to forgive and abundantly tender-hearted…” (Joel 2:12-13). Lent helps us know how real this promise that God will restore us is.
All we need to do to experience God’s restoration is to begin this journey in Lent. It begins with ashes. Ashes remind us of those parts of our lives that are arid and bare. But in those spaces, God is present — waiting to transform them into sacred, healing, life-giving spaces for us and our lives. What will God give us by doing this? The “oil of gladness instead of tears, a cloak of praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).
Isaiah’s vision is how Lent can restore us. This is why I invite us to consider ‘doing’ Lent differently this year. By making Lent count. Making it matter so that our lives are transformed and we become better persons and Christians. Do you and I want to?
I found this video by Fr Mark-Mary of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal helpful. He offers some practical advice to do Lent differently.
Below are the key points Fr Mark-Mary makes in his video that Ascension Press summarizes thus:
- It begins with having the right mindset. Namely, we ought to remember that Lent is a time to establish a deeper relationship with God. It facilitates conversation with the Lord, making it easier to grow in intimacy with him. Fr. Mark-Mary uses the prophet Hosea’s words, from God to Israel, to convey how God calls us to draw closer to him during Lent in a similar way: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14)
- Lent is also a spiritual battle, though. Remember St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians (not Galatians, as Fr. Mark-Mary accidentally states in the video): “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12)
- In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul also urges us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, and there’s no greater time of year to do that than during Lent: “I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
- Our Lenten practices ultimately will make us more free. To help explain this reality, Fr. Mark-Mary uses the analogy of an athlete training to prepare for game time. In life, game time is our everyday activities and encounters with others. Lenten practices allow us to work and strengthen the spiritual muscles we will need when it’s game time. They help us grow in freedom as we will become more capable of living life to the fullest since we grew in self-knowledge and learned to deny lesser goods through our Lenten sacrifice.
- One good Lenten sacrifice Fr. Mark-Mary recommends is getting up fifteen to thirty minutes early, and giving that time to the Lord. This will cause us to take a look at how we unwind at the end of the day before, and it will start the day off right.
- It’s all about freedom. If you have finished Lent unchanged in years past, do Lent differently this year as Fr. Mark-Mary suggests, and experience this freedom he talks about.
Having listened to Fr Mark-Mary, I invite you to make time in the coming days to ponder and consider in these three points for your reflection and prayer as we begin Lent.
a) Review the past few Lents you have made. What worked before to help you experience a good Lent – one that was meaningful, life-giving and spiritually refreshing for you? What didn’t work that made your Lent bland, unfruitful, spiritually lukewarm, even a Lent that meant nothing?
After reflecting on these questions, make two lists. One of the positive actions you or others (eg friends and Church) did that helped you to have a good Lent? Another of the actions you or others did that prevented you from having a good Lent or experiencing the grace of Lent to transform you? What are you thankful for? What do you regret?
b) Fr Mark-Mary challenges you and me to ‘do’ Lent differently this year. He spoke of the need to have an end goal to help us make right choices for a meaningful Lent. He emphasized the need for a game plan to help us accomplish the goal we want. He highlighted the spiritual battle we must ‘fight’ to accomplish the game plan. Our game plan for Lent should help us realize the goal of Lent — greater intimacy with God by growing in freedom for God. This involves choosing to live more in God’s ways.
What is your goal this Lent? What is your game plan to reach this goal? What changes must you make to choose God and God’s ways?
Reflect on the questions above. List your responses. Bring these to God in prayer and share them with Him. Ask God for the graces you need to do and accomplish these. End with the Our Father.
c) You and I have a choice this Lent – to ‘do’ Lent as we have in the past by (i) practicing the same old, same old ways, or (ii) making real in our lives the new goal, game plan, and choices we have listed above for a more spiritually meaningful renewal this Lent.
Which will you choose? Who (eg friend, spouse, teacher, priest, etc) will you ask this Lent to help you accomplish this choice?
Take your time to consider your responses to these 2 questions above When you are ready:
— speak with God about your choice and explain to him why you have made this choice and how you want Him to help you? End your conversation with the Our Father.
— share with the person you have chosen to accompany you about your choice and how you want him/her to support you throughout Lent eg to have a weekly conversation, to pray with or for you, to have him/her check in on your chosen action to make a better Lent, etc?
Words of Encouragement for Lent
“Do not doubt, do not hesitate, never despair of the mercy of God.” – St Isidore of Seville
Let us pray for each other as we begin Lent — to trust in God’s mercy so that we dare to ‘do’ Lent differently this year. May our trust open us up to the transforming grace Lent promises us.