I hate Lent – all those dreary hymns. Have you ever thought like that or heard others speak like that? If so, to be blunt, shame on you. Lent is not a time to be treated with weary resignation, not a time to be put up with on sufferance, Lent brings a special opportunity to get ourselves right with God, to do some spiritual spring cleaning, and in that spirit it should be welcomed.
The big questions for Lent are actually not so much “Are you saying your prayers? Are you coming to church faithfully week by week?” but rather “What is the state of your soul? Are you being renewed within? Which side is winning in the battle between the false self that says “Look after number one” and the true self that says ‘Thy way not mine O Lord’?” That struggle is never going to be easy, because at root we are all selfish, the old animal instinct of self preservation will continually reassert itself. But we are not alone in finding it hard. Not only is every Christian who has ever been, in exactly the same state – yes, even the giants of our faith such as Francis or Mother Teresa – but Jesus himself has endured the self-same struggle, as the story of the Temptations in the Wilderness bears witness.
Jesus was confronted with the basic conundrum – self-serving, or God-serving, and, because, like us, He had freewill, could have opted for the easy, relatively undemanding life of a village carpenter, with maybe a bit of preaching thrown in at weekends for good measure. In the wilderness Jesus confronted His freewill and submitted it to God, in the wilderness Jesus came face to face with His true self, and revealed that He had the strength to serve that true self and do God’s will.
And what was good enough for the Master should be good enough for us too. If we are to find our true inner selves we have to find time to be with God. Sadly, many of us spend a lot of time and effort avoiding precisely that – I must find a few minutes to be still today – oh, I’ve just remembered, I’ve got some urgent shopping to do – Lord, I’ll give the next ten minutes just to you – oh dear, there goes the phone – and so on. We are all experts at running away from our true selves, because we find comfort and security in the kind of half life that we lead, half for the false self that lives just for number one, half for the true self that says, in the words of the hymn “Take my life, and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee”. Lent is a time to stop running away from that confrontation, it is a time for turning again to Jesus, knowing that in Him all is compassion and understanding for those who, often in the midst of great personal problems, are seeking to lead a Christian life to the best of their ability. Lent is a time for placing ourselves in the loving hands of the Saviour and allowing Him to uncover our real selves and serve Him better. Lent is a time for allowing ourselves to be what we were called to be in our Baptism, children of the Most High, and, not simply children, but obedient children, for it is the mark of true faith that it is obedient – as Jesus said, it is not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” to Him who will gain their reward, but those who do the will of His Father in Heaven, in other words, to put it bluntly, those who do as they are told.
For all this we need solitude. Solitude is not necessarily a question of going off into a desert place, and finding God among nature. Solitude can be realised anywhere, if we are prepared to make the necessary effort. Solitude is about finding real space in our lives for God, and we can do that practically anywhere, maybe by the simple expedient of getting up a quarter of an hour earlier in the morning, so that before phones start ringing, before the shops open, we can be still before God, and in the quietness let Him speak to us. If we can, just for a few minutes each day find time not to speak to God, but to let Him speak to us, then we will begin to know more of His will, and we will be brought into fuller contact with the true self within, which is not to be feared but to be loved and cherished, as the divine seed which God has planted in each of us. Lent is about letting the soul in our bodies out of the straitjacket we all keep it confined in, Lent is about growing in love for Our Lord, about serving Him better in His Church and in one another, and about becoming more like Him.
Fr Edward Bryant