Here I am at the first day after Ash Wednesday, and already I’m feeling as though I’ve lost any momentum for Lent. There are challenges at work that make me feel less than spiritually switched on, my family is preparing for a vacation even though I can’t imagine being away right now, and then there’s my own heart, which feels a little bruised and resistant to introspection.
How do I slow down and take hold what Lent is offering?
Each year I struggle to read through Henri Nouwen’s Lent reader, Show Me the Way. Today’s entry is forcing me to re-think my expectations of what this time of the year means and teaches. I hear the words “reflection” and “repentance” and I promptly give in to the temptation to make Lent about me—about my sin, my needs, my struggle to live a life of hope. I step into Lent and feel as though I’ve simply given my self-absorption a new, fancier name…a spiritual, church-sanctioned name, no less.
See what I mean about losing steam for Lent on the very first day?
The first sentence of Nouwen’s reading for today says: “A life of faith is a life of gratitude—it means a life in which I am willing to experience my complete dependence upon God and to praise and think him unceasingly for the gift of being.”
The very first line pierces me to the heart. Is my life of faith a life of gratitude? In my living and praying and studying and working and loving—in all of that, am I aware that it all revolves around being thankful to God?
The rest of the sentence helps me make sense out of where I want to be this season. I really am grateful to God for my life. I’m thankful for my wife and my step-daughter and my son. I'm amazed at the friends and colleagues God has given me. I still wake up most mornings a little surprised that I get to be the pastor of a church, a place that I love with people who are teaching me far more than I’ll ever be able to give back. I really am thankful, when I take the time to think about it, that God’s grace reaches into the darkest parts of my life, turns the light on and says, “I think we can do something with this mess.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
The reminder today, as we look ahead to the Lenten season, is to be grateful to God for the gift of our very being. Whatever prompts you to “praise and thank him unceasingly,” I encourage you to make that the focus of the time between now and Easter. Whatever else you might do during this season of Lent, remember to pause and be thankful as often as you can.
We might just survive these 40 days after all.