Lent invites us to join Christ on the way of the Cross. It’s an intentional season of reflection and meditation. Even more, we’re challenged to arrange our lives in such a way as to be daily frustrated. Let me explain.
As people addicted to comfort and convenience, we’re often unaware of how we live to feel good about ourselves, to gain a bit of affirmation, to exert influence, to maximize our own pleasure, to satisfy our immediate needs. Lent invites us to intentionally frustrate ourselves, to engage in a season of deprivation, which actually makes us more aware of the depth of our dependence on any number of things – a substance, our reputation, control, achievement, being right, being comfortable, being secure.
Lent is NOT a behavior modification program. It’s not about going off chocolate or caffeine or alcohol. It’s about frustrating what Thomas Merton calls our “false self,” our illusory self, the part of us addicted to living the lie, a life of hiding. As Merton writes, “All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honour, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.”
In this sense, Lent’s frustrating reality is an invitation to, once and for all, taste reality, our truest self, gifted to us by God as a pure act of grace. Beneath our illusory self is our real identity, who we were made to be. It is our true self, secure, beloved, held in the Father’s embrace. Lent strips us of everything that is not us. In that sense, Lent is not a chore. It is an opportunity for profound grace by a God who longs to love us at our core, not in our false projected self which desire influence and accolades, but in our truest, most humble and dependent self, once lost but now found in the wilderness of Lent.
Each of the resources below offers a trustworthy Lenten guide to this unique encounter. But no book can manufacture grace. It is most fundamentally about your willingness to surrender to the God who wants to invade your heart with disruptive love, who wants to stifle your exhausting attempts to manufacture love with unfathomable grace. Lent affords you this unique opportunity, by God’s grace. The way down is the way up. Through this Lenten journey, you might find yourself hidden in Christ, and revealed ultimately in the Easter reality of God’s resurrection life, stripped of pretension and falsehood, and revealed as a humble and dependent son or daughter. That’s my hope and prayer, and perhaps yours as well.
Martin Smith, A Season for the Spirit
Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters
Henri Nouwen, Show Me the Way
NT Wright, Lent for Everyone (this is Year B)
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (I like this one, as it features readings from Lewis, Nouwen, Buechner, Chesterton, and more…)