“It is time”. For some reason though this time always creeps up faster than I realise and is upon me before I know it. It’s a time of year where in my house and friendship circles the inevitable question gets raised, “So, what are you thinking of giving up for Lent?” It’s not a bad question, it gets the mind ticking and the ball rolling. But this year I feel like God wants us to ask a different question, a better question.
Lent is the time - like a second new year - where we collectively 'draw in our breath' and prepare to go on a journey. A real journey, a spiritual journey. As we breathe in we know that this journey is going to push us. But we want to do it, because we know deep down we were called for more.
For me, Lent starts each year with a conversation in my head around coffee (mainly ‘cos I have one every morning and it’s something my family hint might be a good idea). But eventually I cottoned on to ‘what good is it if everyone knows what I’m giving up?’ After all, Jesus said the whole point of fasting was not to draw attention to ourselves, so that God “who sees what is done in secret will reward you”. (see Matt 16:17-18)
On the topic of FOOD, Jesus has something more profound to say. But this time he reveals the deeper issue:
This journey we call ‘Lent’ is not about food at all. At the end of the day, God isn’t even thinking about that. It’s not even about giving away more money, although that would be a great thing to do too. It’s not even about praying longer, although I hesitate to say that, because that will definitely help a lot! Then what IS it about? What does God really want?
Your heart! Brothers and sisters, God wants our hearts. If any good things we do or give up don’t flow from hearts that want to know God more closely, we’ve missed the point. If giving up coffee, chocolate, or meat on Friday’s isn’t the expression of a heart that is seeking to return to the Father, then all the holiest activity in the world will simply be ticking boxes. Sure, you may be healthier at the end, but Lent is not a diet. We may raise money for those in serious need - and I hope we do - but Lent is not a fundraising campaign. We may even pray more each day, but if it’s not our hearts that we’re bringing to that secret place to be renewed each day, then we’re missing the invitation. And God’s heart.
This passage from Joel, proclaimed every Ash Wednesday in the Mass, signals our proper focus this year and every year, directing us toward our true goal. It is not really a call to good deeds - although practicing the disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving definitely help a lot.
At it’s core, Lent is a heart-felt appeal from God to come back to HIM, with all our heart. It is an invitation to walk with Jesus into the desert as He confronts the temptations of the world, the flesh and the evil one, and to face down our own demons there. Ultimately, it is a promise that we will emerge with Christ from the desert “in the power of the Spirit”, full of confidence in who we are - sons and daughters of God!
How will we get that confidence?
Bring God your heart, and let Him change it.