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 self-reflection of Lent is rather like the soulful contemplation most of us experience at some time in our grief. When we grieve we must look inward so that we may see who we well and truly are, what it is we value, and what is most important to us in life. At the core of our inmost being we find 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 daily of care of an aging parent, the demands of business, the persistent state of feeling barely above the water line with my volunteer commitments and in my personal life. My laundry list of reasons included all the things of this world that often keep us from diving below the grief-battered surface of our capable exterior self to pause for a season and encounter our more complex interior self where we discern that which is still whole and intact in our lives and own with spiritual honesty the pain of our grief and brokenness.
When we grieve—especially at Lent—sometimes it is sufficient simply to identify and acknowledge our distractions 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 the spiritual effort to see the interplay of grief and Lent in our lives, or maybe 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 this year in daily Lenten moments is the intentional self-discipline to direct my focus away from the distractions of life in order to be still, to rest, and to listen. When this happens, often I am surprised to find within my restless soul the unexpected residue of grief, some emotional ash and trash in desperate need of a vigorous sweep and cleaning.
Often in the dark dampness of our grief a kind of spiritual mold develops, the insidious kind that from the outside is not easily detected yet somewhere deep within we recognize as a by-product of our grief. In the wounded recesses of our heart, 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 heart and soul of all that threatens our emotional and physical well-being and blocks the way that ultimately leads us forward 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