… are what I hoped to get out of Lent this year, though I recognize the irony in speaking of what one hopes to receive from a liturgical season marked by sacrifice and penance.
I still do always go into Lent with a hopeful attitude that this year will be different, that my sacrifices will be successful, that I’ll end the forty days a little closer to sainthood, because my resolutions were good ones, the kind designed to crush sin and purify my soul.
So a good design, but user error, as usual, made for a less than desirable product here at the commencement of Holy Week. And I found myself once again making the last minute emergency run to Confession. But that’s neither here nor there.
What always becomes clear during Lent for me is just how truly screwed up I really am–selfish, weak, spiteful, materialistic, cold, greedy, and vain. Talk about a brush with despair–if I can’t even make a resolution and stick to it without weird new vices and neuroses springing up to fill the void, how exactly is this surprising redemption and change going to work for me?
Perhaps the worst part of this particular dilemma is that it’s such an old one; I’m 38 years old and every year, the same dilemma, the same disappointment, the same realizations about myself during Lent.
What can God possibly want to show me?
The only thing I can gather is that he doesn’t want me to have a sense of personal completion–that the race is won, and I alone have achieved it– but rather an open wound of self-knowledge.
The message of Lent runs contrary to the self-help narrative in popular new age spiritual discourse: I am not strong. I am not complete within myself. There’s no internal goddess here on whom to call for approval of my intentional choices.
I am perhaps more useful to my God when I am weak, dependent on him, and disgusted with my sin, which is a somewhat negative stance with which to approach the world, but it’s a necessary stance for change. In that way, Lent is a bit like a meat tenderizer that batters down the ego and moves you towards a disposition that is bearable to be around.
I am able to consider the possibility that I don’t have to be the one talking and doling out my expertise to the masses, but rather I might be able to help lighten the load of the clean-up crew. I can believe that the requests of others on my time are not a burden, but rather a gift and an opportunity. When I am brought low in recognition of my weakness and sin, I am able to elevate others in my own esteem and see them in the light of God’s esteem for them.
And the recognition that Christ walks with me throughout my perpetual failure is humbling indeed.
How else would one gain humility if not by falling low and finding oneself still accompanied by the only Worthy One? How else would one gain love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control without recognizing the need to ask the grace to obtain them? They are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, not the earned income of a successful Lent.