This is the season of Lent. Lent means different things to different people. When Lent began, did you think of Jesus, his suffering, death and resurrection? Did you think of penance? Did you think of giving up something or stopping smoking or eating less? Did you think of doing an extra kind act for someone daily? Doing something hard for forty days seems like a long time. If you did, what led you to make that resolution?
What is Lent all about? The word means spring or springtime. This is the time of the year in Indiana when winter is almost over and new life is starting to show itself in nature around us, to come out a little brighter. Spring reminds us of new life coming from seeds and bulbs planted earlier, new branches and tiny leaves on trees. The sky looks a deeper blue. It’s a thrill to see the trees and bushes start to bud. It can be a time in which we want to grow spiritually. Lent can be a time for new spiritual life as we consider our past and begin again to renew an aspect in our lives.
In Joel 2:12-13 we read, “Yet, even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
“Return to me with your whole heart…” What does it mean to turn to God with our whole hearts? We pray. We worship God in private and sometimes in public. But turning to God with our whole heart means more.
When we love someone deeply we want to be with that person often. If we’re away from that person, our thoughts will often turn to that person. We’ll wonder what he or she is doing and how their day is going. The more we are with that person, the more we’ll learn to know and love that person. We’ll learn what things please our special person and what makes that person sad. We’ll probably want to do things that will make that person happy, that will let that person know of our love. We’ll want that person to love us, too. In this way we are turning our hearts to that person.
So, too, with God. We can turn our hearts toward God. How has God worked and entered our lives? Sometimes God may do it in a big way, but usually God comes to us in little ways. This is a good time to reflect on the times that we haven’t really wanted God to come into our lives very deeply for it might have meant a change in us. It might have meant a deep realization that God is God and in control and we are not. Maybe there is a certain part of our lives that we want to keep to ourselves. This is a good time to talk it over with God.
God loves us. God loves us so much that Jesus came to convince us of God’s great love for us. We haven’t done anything to earn this love. God loves us first, and because God loves us, we can turn to God and love God in return.
As we examine our lives during this Lenten season, we can see how God truly has been with us with strength and help. Even though at times God seems far away, God is near! By thinking of God, talking to God in times of suffering, sorrow and joy and trying to be more alert to God’s presence, we will be returning to God with our whole hearts, as Joel encourages us to do.
Enjoying the new life springing forth in nature, we can consider the new life that God is giving us. I share this prayer with you, based on Hildegard of Bingen’s focus on God’s creation.
“O God, may I never forget how precious is the earth to you. Help me to cherish every bit of earth so that in doing so I will be reminded of You who created and sustains this garden of delights, which I call home. And may the care I show for it be a reflection of my love for all living things.” Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka