Lent always had a way of making hall monitors out of my siblings. Half a tuna fish sandwich and a handful of potato chips — this was our “big” meal for fast days. As a boy I would announce to the table with great drama, “I am now officially eating my last bite!” before walking away determined yet sad. Undoubtedly, if my hand got anywhere near the open bag of chips I would immediately be called out: “Alex is breaking his fast!”
Lent was a time for me to show Jesus how much I loved him, to prove my worth. One can imagine how much I wanted to “get it right” and have my efforts recognized. My penances were certainly well-known by family. Yet my weaknesses and failures in carrying them out were even better known — especially by me. Sooner or later, I hit the wall of disappointment.
Perhaps this is your story too. You might have started Lent with your head held high — a laundry list of faults to correct in one hand and perhaps an even longer list of spiritual practices in the other. Perhaps you tried to “earn” your Easter — but crashed and burned instead.
But all is not lost. This is not the worst place to be. Exactly here, staring down our poverty, is where God’s glory breaks through and the true meaning of Lent and Easter enters by the back door. Lenten letdowns — when our best is not even close to enough — are really invitations to enter more deeply into the true meaning of this season, the acceptance of Christ alone as savior.
We need a savior. We always needed a savior, yet now we finally know it. Now we can feel it deep in our bones. We trust no longer in ourselves but in Christ alone.
Our desire to “do it well” comes from a good place. We like to feel as if we’re making progress, like we’re worthy of the gifts we’ve been given. We want an impressive resume, something to wave before the Lord’s empty tomb when that Easter day comes. We want to approach him with hands full. We want to feel holy. We want to feel alive!
It’s as if we try to paint a great portrait for God with our penances. We put all our best intentions, efforts, and desires into this painting — everything we wish we could be.
Yet when we present our creation to God he doesn’t want it. Why? He sees our practices for what they’ve become — a mask for us to hide behind. God doesn’t want our props. He wants only us, in the raw.
Our experiences of limitation and struggle are God’s way of taking our masks off. We finally see ourselves as we really are. This is the only way we can accept him as the God he really is.
Yes, this is what it is to be fully alive. Christ living in the depths of our souls living his life, his mysteries, within us. When Christ rushes into our disappointment, we allow his life to become ours. No restrictions. No ultimatums. Nothing is wasted. Our life becomes charged with his. The Christian becomes one with Christ. What could be more fully alive than that?
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.