As Lent began I was, once again, resolved to prove my love to God by making sacrifices that show him how much I love him, that I do indeed love him more than my comforts and my weaknesses. I had my plan, my list of what I’m giving up and what I will do better.
By the end of week 2, reality hit, my little project failed, and I really entered Lent, the Lent Jesus wants.
Coming to prayer, embarrassed to raise my eyes to him because I have failed so many times, and I am a total mess at this ‘proving my love’ thing, I offer him the only real sacrifice I can make- my mess itself- my efforts, my failures, my striving, my desires, everything- the whole mess that was once a neatly organized list of good intentions.
As I offer it to him, I feel his smile, as if he is saying to me, “Finally, we can really begin the journey of Lent.”
God knows that I am incapable. He knows I am imperfect. He knows I love him and that even though my love often fails, I want to love him more and love him perfectly. He knows I can’t. That’s why he died on the cross for me. That’s why he gives me his heart and his love- in exchange for my mess.
My always surprising but always consistent experience is that Christ never recoils at the sight of my disaster. He loves my mess- he sees both the misery and the love in it, and he takes it like the mud he shaped Adam from, he creates me anew, and breaths Mercy into me to bring me to life.
Lent, preparing myself for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, is not about accomplishing my plan for proving my love, but about giving him my mess, and in exchange, letting him flood me with his Mercy.
This doesn’t mean I stop trying to do good and to love more during Lent. It does mean that instead of doing good things to prove my love, I do them relying on and giving the love of Mercy Himself, that same love he fills me with every time I give him the sacrifice of my messy heart.
Instead of praying according to my ideas of perfection, I pour out my heart and my whole self, and ask him to consume me in Mercy. Instead of performing my duties and Lenten promises from sheer willpower, I let God love through me in each moment, knowing my own love is not sufficient but that His Mercy in me is. That is the only way I can “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6: 36-38
Lent begins when I let Mercy live in me. And it begins anew each morning in my prayer, when I offer him my mess, yet again.
Candidly, I have an anthem for Lent. It’s by Vance Joy, a singer I saw in concert with my 15-year-old daughter…. It’s the reminder I need to remember who I am, and who Christ is for me this Lent. Mercy himself tells me, “Your mess is mine,” and not only that, he gives me himself in the Eucharist, his body, to make me one with him (John 17:21). Amazing.