"Learning to love and learning what to love, learning what to hold on to and what to let go of, that’s the real work of Lent. That’s when Lent gets through to me. That’s when I stop doing Lent and Lent begins doing me."
-Michael K. Marsh
Growing up, Lent meant an extra worship service each week on Wednesday nights and the local Catholic church's Friday fish fry. Like many kids, Lent didn't mean much; it was merely a somber and not-very-fun part of church. I only counted myself lucky that I didn't have to give up treats, like many of my friends did.
Now, as an adult, my understanding of Lent is growing, and I find myself drawn to Lent and its possibility for transformation. We like to think that Lent means seasonal transformation, plodding along as snow begins to melt and crocuses poke through the earth in that one spot in the front yard that gets direct sunlight all day long. Midwesterners know, though, that Lent more often than not is the precursor to that long-awaited transformation--fur-lined beanies have served as Easter bonnets at least twice in my lifetime, along with an oddly optimistic combination of summery floral dressed paired with heavy fleece tights and, of course, heavy boots.
What remains true, no matter how early or late the snow melts, is that Lent comes each year as a time of transformation in our hearts and in our relationships. Forty days to make a change and see what happens.
One year, I decided to refer to God only in the feminine throughout Lent as a sort of "practice". I grew up hearing about God the Father, and how He loves the world. As I grew up, I embraced the movement to refraining from assigning God any gender, avoiding pronouns and gender-specific names altogether. But as I encountered struggles with my own mother, this idea came to me, and I decided to try it. "Our Father" became "Our Mother," and "His grace has brought me safe thus far" became "Her grace," even in songs. Easter came, and as I reflected on my Lenten practice, I found myself recognizing a more complete God--I was more aware of a softer side, a gentler side, a nurturing side. Not to mention, I found myself extending more grace to my mother. It was easier to love her, and it was easier to feel loved by both her and God. It was my first encounter with a Lenten transformation, and it has me looking forward to Lent and the possible transformation each year!
This week marks Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. How will you let God work in you this year?
Check out these resources for ways to make Lent a meaningful time of transformation, healing, and challenge: