Lent is the forty-day period that precedes Easter observed by many Christians. The premise of Lent is that it is a time of spiritual introspection and self-examination that can lead us toward a renewed, stronger faith and a closer relationship with God. If you think about it, the observance of Lent is a little like the soulful contemplation most of us experience at some time in grief. When we grieve, we must look inward to see who we are at the core of our being, what it is we value, and what is most important to us in life. At the heart of our innermost self, we see whether our faith is a superficial ornament of life or the essential foundation on which all of life is built.
One year on Ash Wednesday I was driving along trying to figure out why I wasn’t feeling especially attuned to Lent. As I paused to look inside my own heart I realized that my sense of disconnection had to do with distractions—the demands of business, the persistent state of feeling barely above the water line with my volunteer commitments, and the disruption of grief in my personal life. My laundry list of reasons included all the things of this world that too often keep us from diving below the grief-battered surface of our capable exterior to pause for a season and encounter our more complex interior self. This is where we acknowledge all that's still whole and intact in our lives. This is where we own the pain and brokenness of our grief with complete spiritual honesty.
When we grieve—especially at Lent—sometimes it's sufficient simply to recognize that we are distracted and pray that our mind, heart, and soul will find some deeper focus, “Let the words of my mother and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 NRSV). Perhaps we make an effort to see the spiritual interplay of grief and Lent in our lives. Or perhaps we defer our soul-searching to a time when some balance and order return to life—when the muddle is less, when we have a clearer view of life, when we can breathe again. There are no rules for Lent or grief.
What I hope to find in Lenten moments is the self-discipline to direct my focus away from the distractions of life so that I may be still and listen. Often in the dark dampness of our grief a kind of spiritual mold develops, the insidious kind not easily detected that we we recognize somewhere deep within as a by-product of our grief. In the wounded recesses of our heart the spores of negativity, cynicism, guarded resentment, and protective pride can grow and flourish without our even being aware. If mold attacks our home, we test and assess, then launch a full-scale attack of remediation. When we grieve, we must find the will to put on our spiritual hazmat suit and purge our soul of all that threatens our emotional well-being and obscures the way forward in life that leads us beyond our grief.
At Lent and in grief we seek a deeper experience of the grace of God. Look within. God’s grace is the love that destroys all our pride. As we grieve at Lent may we see more clearly that God’s grace is the essence of love at work in our lives, the sacred gift that restores us and makes us whole.
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10-11 NRSV