By now, you’ve probably been asked, “What are you doing for Lent?” And, whether you’re willing to share, you likely have an answer. You probably know what you did last year for Lent and may even be able to recall the most memorable or challenging thing you ever did for Lent. But what if the question were, “What is God doing for you this Lent?” I’m willing to bet that most of us never consider that question. For many of us, Lent is about what we’re doing – mostly what we’re “giving up”. Lent becomes a contest with ourself to see if we can make it the whole season without giving in. And we reward ourself by overindulging at Easter because we made it! When Lent is reduced to the acts of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving – with no other end in mind – then we really miss the whole point of Lent. We end up spending 40 days going through an exercise that amounts to … a 40-day exercise.
About three weeks ago, I seriously injured my arm. I was at work and was carrying some things when, suddenly, I felt a surge of electricity run through my arm and I dropped what I was carrying. I knew immediately that it was bad – bad enough to require surgery. I had damaged a major muscle and found myself broken in a way that I couldn’t fix. My wife picked me up from work and we headed straight to my doctor’s office. The next day and a half were spent seeing doctors, getting x-rays, pre-admitting for surgery, talking with insurance companies, and waiting. Thankfully, the surgeon was able to squeeze me in to his schedule just two days after the injury. I began that day well before daybreak, showered with surgical scrub, showed up right on time at the outpatient clinic, filled out even more paperwork, and signed the consent forms. In the end, though, none of what I did fixed me. Sure, I had to do lots of stuff, but I had to rely on the doctor to put me back together. My arm is now beginning to heal – not because I filled out some form, but because a skilled surgeon fixed what what was broken.
What we do for Lent is not the point of Lent. What God does is the point of Lent. We all find ourselves broken in a way that we can’t fix. It’s what we call the fallen human condition and none of us are exempt from it. We need to be healed and restored, but no matter what, we can’t do it by ourselves – we need God for that part. We have our part to do, but it will be Him who ultimately puts us back together. Lent is sort of like those two days before my injury and my surgery – we have to wake up (recognize that we’re broken!), clean up (fasting and confession!), show up (prayer!), and sign the consent form (give God permission to do what only He can do!).
In Luke’s Gospel, we read the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem during the time of Passover. He sends some of his disciples ahead to prepare a room for the meal (Luke 22:12). We all know the significance of that meal – it’s the one we call “the Last Supper”, the one we recall on Holy Thursday. It’s at that meal that Jesus institutes the Priesthood. It’s at that meal that He gives His command to serve, which He demonstrates by His own example of washing the feet of the disciples. The disciples that had been sent ahead were given an important job – prepare the room. They cleared a space, set the room, prepared a meal, and served it – but it was Jesus who did the real work!
We are often invited and allowed to play a role in God’s work – and often it is by preparing the room. We do this at Mass – we set flowers, light candles, sing songs, read Scripture, exchange a sign of peace, and so on. But Jesus does the real work! We set the space for Him to show up! In the end, it is not about what we do, but what HE does.
And so it is with Lent. Give something up for Lent – so that Jesus can fill up the space left empty through your fasting. Pray more during Lent – so that Jesus may transform your life. Give to the poor – so that Christ may meet you through them. Lent is about preparing room for Jesus to meet you in the deepest part of your heart, where He can heal and transform you. What you do for Lent matters only to the extent that it makes room for God to do the real work.
If you want this Lent to matter, look past the stuff you’re doing. Look at what God is doing. Don’t rush back to business as usual when we reach Easter – that’s likely when He is finally able to begin the real work once you’ve cleared some room for Him.
So, what is God doing for you this Lent?