Lent: transformation and discernment
By Jessica Brodie (From the Advocate, March 2017)
Forty days. It’s a powerful period. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days. Noah and his family saw 40 days of rain while they were on the ark. Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, preparing himself for his ministry.
Lent, too, is a powerful 40-day period—when we allow it to be. A time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter, Lent is about introspection and reflection, about looking within and exploring deeper nuances of our relationship with God.
I used to think Lent was simply about sacrifice, about giving up something bad in our lives for 40 days. I have friends who give up Facebook or drinking soda. I once gave up dark chocolate. I thought it was all about fostering empathy with Jesus Christ, about understanding the sacrifices He made for us, and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross.
But I’ve come to understand that Lent is so much more than this. It’s about growth and change. It’s about figuring out what is a stumbling block or weakness in our current relationship with God and working through it, whatever that means in practice.
And if we want to be better disciples of Christ, I think it’s healthy and very necessary for us to embark on a Lenten journey. We need to take it seriously, use it as a period to meditate on God and His purpose and His needs for us right now in our lives. We need to look deep within and uncover some hard truths, and figure out what God wants us to do about them.
At the United Methodist Men’s (yes, men’s) spiritual retreat recently, I had the opportunity to hear wisdom from a host of church leaders designed to help men become better rooted in Christ and better disciples. One of the leaders, the Rev. Jim Cowart of Harvest Church in Georgia, talked about how we can become a “battleship” for God by homing in on a vision rooted in the Great Commandment and Great Commission, pushing past all the excuses. “If you want your church to change, you have to grow,” Cowart said, noting that we have to figure out where we are before we can figure out where we want to go. Sometimes understanding “where we are” means understanding some brutal and painful truths about the depths of our sin and weakness, but it must be addressed. And a time of Lenten reflection and discernment is a wonderful opportunity to do that.
Last year, I began an intentional daily Bible reading program that has stuck with me and morphed into a daily Scripture journaling practice. This year, I’m still discerning what God needs me to explore for Lent, but I can guarantee you it will be a God-led journey.
What is standing in the way of your relationship with God? What is preventing it from being all it can be? Do you need to let go of an idol, such as money or food? Do you need to eliminate a major distraction? Do you need to adopt some better faith disciplines, like a daily prayer or Bible reading practice?
Take it seriously. Look within. Ask yourself those hard truths.
And watch yourself be transformed.