We're now deep into Lent, at the point when we anticipate the end of Lent and whatever spiritual discipline we have imposed on ourselves. Very few of us will be sorry to see Lent pass away. And that's too bad. Lent is the time for us to be closest to God; it is the time when we, like Jesus, the beloved in whom the Father is well-pleased, are led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness of our own hearts. Once there, God who made us and loves us best can perfect us -- as in Mt. 5:48, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
It's up to us to cooperate in the perfecting, however. And that generally means letting go of false ideas grounded in negativity, grandiosity or denial, and coming to know who we truly are. This can be hard work. We're comfortable with our false ideas. We've had some of them since we were children, have stored them up like little mantras that we can replay at will. "You can't do that, you're too -- " (Fill in the blank. ) Or, just as damaging , "Never mind them. They're just jealous of you." People can be jealous at times, this is true. But we also can be arrogant, causing others,quite rightly, to be put off by our behavior. And then there's, "I don't have a problem with ----. I can stop at any time," the creed of all who live in the Land of Deep Denial. These are examples of areas that keep us from growing. Our energy is spent holding onto them when we could just let them go, settle into God's loving embrace, and just be who we are.
It's a paradox that we can come to love the very things that hold us back, and can become frightened when God tries to help us by taking them away. C.S. Lewis writes about this in The Great Divorce, a tale of ghosts resisting angels' efforts to guide them into heaven. Here's a sample, condensed from pages 98-100 in the Macmillan Publishing Co.'s edition:
'I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. ...a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. 'Shut up, I tell you!' he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward ...
'Off so soon?' said a voice.
The speaker was more or less huan in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him.....
'Yes. I'm off,' said the Ghost. ...But it'sno good, you see. I told here he indicated the lizard), 'that he'd hav to be quiet if he came -- which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won't do here: I realise that. But he won't stop. I shall just have to go home.'
'Would you like me to make him quiet?' said the flaming Spirit ...
'Of course I would,' said the Ghost.
'Then I will kill him,' said the Angel...You're burning me. Keep away,' said the Ghost, retreating.
'Don't you want him killed? ...It's the only way,' said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. 'Shall I kill it?' ...
'Well, there's time to discuss that later.'
'There is no time. May I kill it?'
'...I think the gradual process would be far better.'
The gradual process is of no use at all."
'...i'm not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I'd need to be in good health for the operation. Someother day, perhaps." (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Macmillan Publishing Co., NY)
If the excuses sound familiar, take heart. They're just the stuff of being human, and there's plenty of Lent left to work on them. Don't be afraid to go into the wilderness of your heart. God, who loves you best, is with you. And there is nothing in creation that can separate you from the love of God -- unless, of course, you make the choice to turn away.
Searching for a quiet place? Check out Trinity Conference Center's Pelican House in Atlantic Beach, NC. http://www.trinityctr.com/pelican/index.html. Guided retreats are held throughout the year. For the schedule, please click here.
Most Charlotte area churches hold special Lenten activities. Holy Comforter on Park Rd., for example, offers a full schedule of events for Lent and Holy Week. Click here for a pdf copy you can print out yourself.