Lent is the forty-day period that precedes Easter which is observed by many Christians. It is a time of spiritual introspection and self-examination that leads to the renewal of our faith and a closer relationship with God. Many of the observances of Lent are similar to the soulful reflection and contemplation most of us experience at some time in our grief. When we grieve, we look inward - we see who we really are, what we’re really made of, what it is we value, what it is we’re holding onto. 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.
A few days after Ash Wednesday one year, I was driving along trying to figure out why I wasn’t feeling very 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 care of a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, the demands of business, the persistent state of feeling barely above the water line in my volunteer and personal commitments. My laundry list included all the things of this world that often keep us from diving below our grief-battered surface to find what’s still whole inside and what’s really broken.
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. 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 sometime in the future 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.
Lent is a time that leads us toward spiritual growth. When we direct our focus away from the distractions of life, we create space within our grieving heart to be still and listen. Often, we discern within the recesses of our restless soul manifestations of our woundedness that are dark and unfamiliar - negativity, cynicism, guarded resentment, protective pride. Lent is a season in which we purge our heart and soul of all that threatens our emotional and physical well-being. It is a moment of passage in grief when we are mindful of all that blocks the way forward, even as we seek to free ourselves from every impediment that threatens the promise of fulness of life beyond our grief.
At Lent, as in grief, we seek a deeper experience of the grace of God, the love that destroys all our pride. Look within. Listen within. As we grieve at Lent, 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