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Why Lent Should Bring You Joy

Lent is my favorite liturgical season.
Some people think it is strange to like Lent. It seems too somber and penitential to be liked – similar to a Facebook status that shares sad or painful news yet has the potential to lead to something good. Is it appropriate to “like” such a status?

Is it appropriate to like Lent – a season where we are reminded of our mortality with a holy smudge and engaged in self-reflection on the pervasiveness of our sin and our humanity?

I believe it is if we see the potential for good. As Sara Parsons says, “Perhaps Lent is a season of joy when we look at ourselves, not so we may criticize ourselves more harshly but so we can identify the obstructions that keep us from God.”

In this season, we are invited to ask reflective questions. What prevents us from being fully devoted followers of Jesus? How do we avoid God and why? What is standing in the way of us surrendering fully to the leadership of the Lord?

Lent provides a regular rhythm for us to seek out these hindrances and, with God’s grace and strength, to cut these hindrances out of our lives and to fully fling ourselves into God’s grace and mercy.

I’m going to share a potential spoiler from the movie “Gravity” now. If you haven’t seen it, my apologies.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) escapes from a fiery space capsule into a sea of water and attempts to swim to the surface.

She soon realizes that the weight and bulk of her spacesuit is weighing her down and the only way to live is to throw off that which is burdening her – to cut it out of her life. Once she is free, she is able to surface, breathe and live.

Lent forces us to stop and to realize all the bulk that we’ve added to our lives. To stop and become aware that perhaps we are sinking, weighed down by obstructions that are keeping us from being the free people that God longs for us to be.

Lent calls us to throw off that which so easily entangles and surface to a new life, a free life (see Hebrews 12:1). We are released to really live, as we no longer pretend to be anything other than what we are – flawed human beings.

This freedom from pretending is a relief to sufferers drowning from guilt, like me. It brings joy and that’s why I love Lent.

In her Ash Wednesday homily this year, Nadia Bolz Weber said that admitting the truth about our mortality is “like the moment when you stop having to spiritually hold your stomach in.”

Lent invites us to stop pretending or “sucking in” our spiritual stomach. We are encouraged to be real – admitting that we are a mess and in need of a Savior; that we are mortal, but that death is not final.

Lent is not the time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. It isn’t spiritual Pinterest where we pin a challenge or behavior modification in order to create a more perfect self.

As Thomas Hopko explains in his book “The Lenten Spring,” it is “the great and saving forty days” set apart for complete and total dedication to the things of God.

It is the “tithe of the year,” which tells us that all times and seasons belong to the Lord, who has created and redeemed the world.

Let’s remember who the hero is at the end of 40 days – not us for having achieved victory over the allure of heavenly sugar or the appealing seduction of social media. 

Rather, the hero is Jesus, the one we pursue instead of these obstacles.

May this season remind us of our mortality; may our repentance be the occasion for a reprieve from neurosis and anxiety; and may we journey with patience and joy toward the eternal hope of Christ’s resurrection.

Remember that we came from dust and will return to dust. Remember that we came from God and will return to God.

Melissa Hatfield is the associate pastor of youth and missions at First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Mo. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Wonderings from my Wanderings, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @melissahatfield.

Editor’s note: “Eyeing Easter, Walking through Lent,” EthicsDaily.com’s eight-week Lenten Bible study curriculum, is available here.