The Lenten Journey
by Sam Hawkins
Journeys are in our DNA, it seems. It’s not difficult to think of great stories that revolve around one. Lord of the Rings, Huckleberry Finn, the Odyssey, and, more recently, 1883, are just a few examples of stories in which characters make a significant journey. At the most basic level, a journey is a process of beginning in one place and moving to another, but what seems to be most important about our human journeys is how we may change on the way. There is something about moving away from what we’ve grown accustomed to that invites opportunities for learning and growth.
And yet…when I think about life as a human journey, one thing I can’t help but notice is the sense of unpreparedness that often accompanies it. Quite often, we are simply not ready for the challenges that await us. Some have talked about humans as being “thrown” into life. We land in places, families, and situations we did not choose, and often these situations require from us wisdom and skills we don’t yet have. On the journey of life, there must always be a lot of learning as we go. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need times of deliberate preparation and practice. We very much need seasons and places that can better prepare us for what will meet us on the road.
The Gospels tell of Jesus’ steps on an amazing journey that ends in Holy Week and Easter. At the beginning of His public career, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in preparation for the work that awaited. The Lenten season is a time in which many of Jesus’ followers commemorate those 40 days. I grew up with absolutely zero awareness of Lent or its meaning. It was not something the churches of my tradition observed. And what I first heard about it was that it involved simply giving up something good. That just sounded like some exercise in willpower, sort of like when we were kids and we would compete to see how long we could hold our breath.
But in the past decade I have loved learning about the opportunities Lent offers. I think of it now as a place on our journey where we pause to prepare ourselves for moving ahead. During this pause, we journey deeper into the realities and hopes of the Christian life. Lenten practices of prayer, reflection, taking ashes, and sacrificing some of our distractions are all ways to focus on the critical questions of what it means to be a human being, and to be a human being who follows Christ.
One reason I love the process of therapy is because of some characteristics it shares with the season of Lent. Both involve deliberately entering a special (or sacred) time and space in which we focus more intensely on the realities of our life. Both involve increasing our awareness of how we actually think, feel, and act. Both involve looking back, but also forward. Both involve being open to change, to doing something different, and to the hope of healing. And to do all that, both require the grace of courage. Self-awareness and a willingness to change don’t come naturally to most of us.
Lent has much to teach us about ourselves, and our need for humility and honesty. But it also reminds us that God is on the move, preparing a way to reconcile us to Him and bring healing to all His creation. We are on a journey, but most importantly, our journey always happens within the context of what God has done and will do. In Lent, we are reminded that even when the world is at its darkest, we have not been forsaken. Good News awaits us. In this season of Lent, and in every other, may God grant us the courage to get ready, keep going, and learn on the way.