Lent will be a wonderful season of grace for us if we give ourselves to it. And we will give ourselves to it if we want it badly enough. We need to prepare our hearts. We can do so by realizing how much we want to grow in freedom, how much we need to lighten our spirits and experience real joy, and how much some parts of our lives really need changing.
Preparing our hearts is a process of preparing our desires. This means practicing a sense of anticipation. If I imagine Lent as an “ordeal” or a time I dread in some way, then I’ve already predisposed myself to not get very much out of it. Lent is a time to anticipate something wonderful that is about to happen.
Our Focus: What God Wants to Give Us
Our sense of excitement and anticipation will grow more easily if we begin to imagine what God wants to give us. Something is coming that we can truly look forward to. If we focus too much on what we are going to do or not do, we risk missing out on the gift God wants to give us. Lent is about God’s great desire to bless us. All grace comes from God and is, therefore, God’s gift. It is given to us to free us to love others as our Lord has loved us. What we want is to receive what God wants to give us.
Lent is a season of being invited by God in a deeply personal way. “Come back to me, with all of your heart,” our Lord beckons (see Joel 2:12). “We will,” we respond, but we aren’t quite ready; our hearts are not prepared. We want to squirm, evade, avoid. We note that our souls are not yet perfect. We think we are not ready for God to love us.
Yes, of course I want to have a deeper relationship with God, we tell ourselves earnestly. And we will...soon. God calls to us again: “Come back to me, with all of your heart.”
Beginning New Patterns During Lent
Something all of us can do is committing ourselves to being more reflective during Lent. We can simply make a point of being more observant, more aware of what we’re experiencing, more cognizant of our automatic behavior. We can then start paying attention to our many desires. During Lent, we can examine these desires and see which of them we need to purify, which we may need to abandon, and which are positive desires that we need to act on. Naming our deepest desires will guide the choices we make to establish new patterns for Lent.
Return to Me with Your Whole Heart
From the first day of Lent, the Ash Wednesday readings make God’s call to us clear: “Return to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12 NAB). It is an extraordinary invitation from God to each one of us—to me in a personal, individual way. God invites me to drop the defenses that I hold up between myself and God.
God wants us to realize that our standards, our ways of judging and loving, are very different from God’s way, and so much smaller. God loves each one of us. For an entire Lenten season, for an entire lifetime, God loves each one of us.
“A clean heart create for me, God,” Psalm 51:12 NAB offers. “Give me back the joy of your salvation.” That is exactly what our loving God wants to give us, the joy of salvation.
Excerpted from Praying Lent by Andy Alexander, SJ, and Maureen McCann Waldron.