by Robin Whetstone
When I became a Christian six years ago, Lent was one of my favorite periods of the calendar. Most of the time, Christians are asked to do vague, hard-to-define things, like “pray,” “have faith,” and “believe.” How can you tell if you’re doing it right? How do you know whether it’s working?
But Lent is one of the few times in Christian life where you’re asked to do something (or not do something) concrete. During Lent, it’s easy to tell whether I’m winning at Christianity. I managed not to eat that pound of chocolate over there, even though I really wanted to. Look how good I am! Soon I’ll be perfect.
Even better, the thing you’re called to do dovetails nicely with our American obsession with self-help and improvement. As soon as I finish programming my Fitbit and taking the ice-bucket challenge, I’ll get right on that whole purify-myself-so-my-heart-will-be-ready-for-Easter thing.
It’s easy for me to slide into that thinking, and that is one of the reasons why, six years later, Lent is still my favorite time of the year. My challenge during Lent is to remember that my faith is not about what I do, but what God does. It’s not about how pure I can be, but about how ready I am to humble myself, be still, and listen. It’s not about me changing my behavior, but about God changing my heart through grace.
How do I know if it’s working? How do I know if I’m doing it right? I don’t. I don’t know what the outcome of the 40 days of wandering will be, but that’s sort of the point. The point is to wait and listen. The fact that I — a results-oriented type-A go-getter who has a high tolerance for hyphens but a low one for ambiguity — have become capable of waiting and listening, of putting all of that aside and sitting with the uncertainty and stillness, means that something is happening. My heart is changing. I can see this most clearly in the days before the promise of Easter is fulfilled, during the time when things seem least certain, and this makes me happy in a way that’s different from Christmas or Easter. Is “Happy Lent” a thing? Not for most people, I guess. But it is for me, for reasons that continue to amaze me.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 5:11-12