Relentless Lenting

Tulips

Spring has sprung here in Atlanta. The birds are chirping, lawnmowers are running, and the pollen is everywhere. Even as I sit on my back patio to write this post, a fine layer of that allergy-inducing dust is already settling on my computer. But as much as I hate the pollen, I can’t help but love this time of year, especially in the South. The weather is beautiful, the flowers are blooming, and the city that hid away during the “depths of winter” is finally coming back to life.

Spring also means the beginning of the most important season in the Church calendar: Easter. Although the toy and electronics industry will try to convince you that Christmas is superior, Easter is more significant because it’s when we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior.

But I have a confession to make. I don’t always love Easter. Yes, I understand its theological implications. Yes, I intellectually grasp what it means that Jesus died and rose again. But if I’m truly honest, this “holiday of holidays” usually just passes me by, lost in the pollen-laden (and paper-writing) sands of time at the end of the school year. Life in the spring is especially hectic, and I don’t often manage to pause long enough to make Easter meaningful.

Back in the day, leaders in the Christian church recognized that this might be a problem for people like me, so they instituted a season called “Lent” leading up to Easter. During these 40 days of fasting, Christians are asked to make space in their lives to contemplate their own mortality and focus on God. As we “sacrifice” (by not eating chocolate or drinking coffee… or the other 99 things on this BuzzFeed list), we are called to remember Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

This year, I tried really hard to observe Lent. I went to Ash Wednesday services, I gave up Facebook, I added more time of silence and contemplation into my schedule, and I even picked up a copy of Great Lent by the orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann. I so badly wanted to make Lent meaningful, so that Easter’s celebration would be that much sweeter to me. But try as I did, nothing “worked”:  The silence I sought soon filled up with noise. I only made it halfway through Great Lent (and of what I did read, I barely understood any of it). And even though I did stay off of Facebook, I only succeeded because my mom had changed my password; on my own, I would have never had the self-control to make it. In the end, instead of becoming more focused on God, I just became more discouraged and distracted.

Sure enough, despite all my attempts at relentless “Lenting” (pardon the terrible pun), Holy Week managed to sneak up on me—and fill me with dread. Here I was, a week away from Easter, and I didn’t feel any closer to Jesus than when Lent had started. I’d griped my way through most of Lent, lamenting my workload far more than my sin. I felt like the disciples on that last night of Jesus’ life, when He asked them to stay up with Him to watch and pray. But over and over again, they fell asleep; they couldn’t do the one thing He asked. He needed them, and they failed Him. That’s exactly how I felt. Jesus had asked me to journey with Him during Lent, and—on the days I actually managed to peel myself out of bed and walk—I only managed to trip over my own feet. What an epic and miserable failure.

Still feeling discouraged last Wednesday, I hauled myself to church for our monthly evening of worship and prayer. During this time, we literally create space (by clearing out a lot of chairs) for people to (surprise) worship, pray, and spend time with God. As I sat there journaling, venting about my frustration and discouragement, writing about how stuck I felt and how my faith felt like a dead end, I suddenly stopped… and began to doodle.

Here I should pause and say that I never doodle. I tried when I was a kid and I got so disheartened by my abysmal stick figures that I quit. So sat there last Wednesday and felt the inexplicable urge to doodle, I couldn’t help feeling curious about what would happen.

No, the result wasn’t the Mona Lisa. It wasn’t even much of a drawing, per se. On the paper were two curvy lines, like a mountain range with the sun coming up over the ridge. (Or at least, that’s what I interpreted it to be; again, I am not artistically gifted.) And on top of the sun (or what looked like the sun), I wrote the phrase “new mercies.” Despite its childish simplicity, the image stirred something in me, and I thought of Lamentations 3:22-24,

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.’”

Ever since last Wednesday, I’ve been pondering this passage, and over and over again I am struck by its beautiful simplicity. God is faithful. God is good. And His compassions—His mercies—are new, not just when first meet Jesus, not just on Easter, not just when everything is going our way or we are following Him perfectly, but they are new every morning. He loves us, truly and deeply loves us, and because of this we have hope and victory, rather than defeat. So even when I feel spent, even when I’m in a terrible mood, even when I don’t manage to follow Lent, He is still abundantly, absurdly, extravagantly compassionate, faithful, and good.

This, my friends, is the hope we have in Jesus. Even when we weak and full of frustration, brokenness, distraction, and shame, God meets us daily with His new mercies. He is just that good. No, my Lent didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, but He managed to redeem even that disappointment this week—by reminding me again of His unfailing love. Just like He proved on Easter by raising Jesus from the grave, our God brings life to the dead and lifeless places inside each of us.

Amen and Amen.

Now, where can I find some chocolate to celebrate? 😉

Stone Mountain Sunrise :)
Stone Mountain Sunrise 🙂
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