Like the dark smudge on your forehead, Lent is something that has already disappeared for many in today’s stressful world. However, observing Lent can alter our perceptions and how we view the world can be greatly transformed. So, while there is still time during this season, all is not lost.
We can take a page from a Jewish rabbi on this. On Yom Kippur he gave out to each member of his congregation a small piece of paper. On one side of it was written: “It’s later than you think!” On the other side, it said, “It’s never too late!” What he was speaking about is a sense of mindful prayerfulness — being in the now with our eyes wide open to the presence of God in so many different and wondrous ways. And, fortunately this Lent, we still have time if we take it now. So, why not reflect on the following four ways Lent can change you?
Simply read and reread the following four ways in the morning during the remainder of Lent. During the day, over lunch or a break, skim through them again, and finally, before you go to bed, give them a final check. In doing this, avoid judging yourself as to how Lent and your life is going. Catch yourself if something spurs the blaming game in which you find yourself thinking negatively of others. And finally, don’t get discouraged if your Lent seems to be less than you want it to be. Just seek to be intrigued with how God is working in your life.
Remember the ashes: The message of “from dust to dust we shall return” is not really a downer — it is reality. When we remember that we are mortal, impermanence can help us appreciate our lives even more. There is a tribe in Africa that used to put a skull on the table during a feast so people would recognize their mortality and appreciate the joy of friends and celebration even more. The ashes teach us to be more grateful for the people and things in our lives that are already there. Even though the ashes are physically gone, remember what they symbolize and you will live differently knowing this day can be your last.
Recognize that sacrifice is truly an act of beneficial simplicity: When we give things or activities up in Lent it is not simply an act of self-denial, although it is good to postpone gratification at times. Instead, through the simplicity practiced in Lent, making our needs and consumption smaller, we can gain a greater appreciation of what is in our lives. Secular society would have us think we need more but when we have it, we need even more. It also would have us think we need different but once we have it, it is the same. And, secular society would have us think we need perfect but there is no such thing or person but God. Lent helps us make our world smaller so our perception of all that is so good in it now becomes keener.
Lent gives us the opportunity to be compassionate in new ways: Almsgiving, which is one of the hallmarks of Lent, doesn’t involve simply giving money — although, once again, that is good too. It is giving of ourselves to others in our family, circle of friends, and at our workplace in a very different way: namely, with a true sense of mitzvah, expecting nothing in return — not a smile; not a thank you; not an iota of appreciation. Learning this type of complete gift-giving of ourselves has a true platform in Lent under the banner of “almsgiving.”
Prayer gets a fresh start: By putting ourselves in the presence of God in the morning as we reflect on these four ways we can allow Lent to be a time of change for us. The prayer life we always promised ourselves we would start or strengthen comes to life — maybe for the first time in a long while. We know that, along with fasting and almsgiving, prayer is the third and most important part of a Lenten practice, but after Ash Wednesday it usually falls by the wayside until we are abruptly awakened to the need for it during Holy Week. If we take a couple of minutes in the morning (remember, regularity rather than length of prayer is what is important) to quiet ourselves before we get out of bed, maybe in the shower, or during our ride to work, we can begin a new prayer life regimen.
When God’s will and our will intersect, we become free, more whole, and life changes for the better — no matter what darkness we may be facing at the moment. And so, while Lent is still before us, let’s remember that “it’s later than you think” and “it’s never too late” if we turn to God now with a sense of spiritual intrigue as to how God is walking with us through life.