I grew up in a faith tradition that observed the season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday our family went to mass and received ashes smudged onto our foreheads, on Fridays we had macaroni and cheese, we were expected to make extra visits to the confessional and, as we got older, we were asked to give something up for Jesus because he gave up his life for us. I liked Lent. It gave me something to do and I believed I needed to do something for him to get his attention so he could see what a good little girl I was. I gave up reading time for more prayer time. I gave up my favorite foods to experience sacrifice. I wore something blue everyday of Lent because I had heard somewhere that it was the Mother Mary’s favorite color and I thought that Jesus would notice me if I wore his mother’s favorite color. For me Lent was all about working to get God’s attention.
Somewhere in my teenaged years someone told me about grace. They shared that I did not have to do anything to get God’s attention, I already had it because he made me and he loves me. My head momentarily shut off so that my heart could listen. I was loved! I was wanted by God just as I was, no perfect behavior or extreme sacrifice on my part was needed! Unfortunately I threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, and stopped honoring the Lent season. I did not see the richness that this tradition could bring into my life when observed from a viewpoint of love and acceptance instead of works and falling short of perfection. Fast forward a few decades in my life to a point where I was reintroduced to the beauty of a Lent season bathed in grace.
My adult Lent disciplines may mirror my childhood ones, but the motivation is completely different. The childish me sought to be good enough for God to get God’s attention. The adult me practices the discipline to get my attention on God.
My prayer for you this Lent season is that you will know the freedom of being unconditionally love and accepted just as you are.
Contributed by Lida Merrill, Spiritual Life Director, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.