We begin this holy season of Lent with conviction, motivation, and abundant energy. We want to be close to God. We want to be free from distractions. We want to grow in holiness. But midway through, we can grow a bit weary, because the reality is that sacrificing and suffering are hard, especially in the increasingly cushy world in which we live.
A few years ago, I heard a priest say something that has helped me persevere when I have grown weary in the middle of this penitential season. And that something is …
Lent is a joyful season.
What? Can you repeat that, please? A joyful season?
I had never thought of Lent that way before. But the more I mulled that radical concept over in my mind, the more I realized that, yes, Lent truly is a joyful time.
Not joyful in the happy, celebratory sense. But joyful in a sobering sense.
A sober joy.
A joy that is free from frivolity or excess. A joy that is subdued. Yes, even a more serious joy.
But definitely joy.
Lent is a way of clearing out the clutter in our minds, hearts and lives, and allowing the cause of real joy to come through.
And where do we find real joy?
Real joy is not pleasure in the created things of this world that can only make us happy for so long. (Hence, the real reason for those many years of giving up chocolate.) But true, pure, authentic joy is in the Creator, the One who gives life, the One who gives chocolate, the One who allows grace and blessing and even suffering so that we may grow closer to Him.
This realization shaped my entire Lent that year. And continues to shape it today.
I know that my realization wasn’t anything that my humble little mind could have come to on its own. No, it was a divine gift, something that the Lord wanted me to finally comprehend.
God has given us the sacred time of Lent to renew and purify our hearts. Lent is an invitation to unite our suffering with Christ’s, so that we can return to the outstretched arms of Our Father.
When we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we accept our sufferings, like Christ accepted His cross. We also recall that even Jesus fell underneath the weight of His cross, so we are bound to stumble and fall, too. But in our weariness and imperfections, we can press on and strive for that real joy.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me His own …” (Philippians 3:12)
As we continue to press on this Lent, let us be open to Jesus’ invitation and the blessing it really is to be permitted to suffer (even a little) with Him. It might not be something that we can completely comprehend. But to accept it as truthful mystery is to trust that God’s folly is wiser than human wisdom. His ways are not our ways. And sometimes that is all it takes to follow Him … with joy.
Copyright 2016, Sarah Damm