On faith: Lent helps us weather the wilderness of life
By: Susan Berge, Pastor, Knife River Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
For those Christians who are a part of a liturgical church tradition, we are now in the season of Lent. We entered this season on February 13, when Ash Wednesday began the 40-day season that leads to Holy Week and Easter. Lent comes from the Latin word that means “lengthen”, and it refers to the lengthening of daylight that we experience during late winter and early spring, when this liturgical season falls in our hemisphere. Traditionally, this season has had one or two focal points. In some eras and places, this was the season in which adult converts were educated in the Christian faith, prior to a group baptismal experience during the Easter vigil service held on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday. More commonly in recent years, the season focuses on the cross of Christ and on our need to reflect on our own sin, brokenness and mortality, so that we may turn to God anew. The forty days of the Lenten season are an echo of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert wilderness being tested by Satan prior to beginning his public ministry. Many Christians mark Lent as unique in their own lives by either giving up something as an act of self-discipline, like meat or television viewing, or by adding an additional spiritual discipline, like giving financially to combat hunger, attending Wednesday evening Lenten services or adding a daily prayer time to their routines. Because Lent has a more serious flavor than some seasons, and because it emphasizes spiritual disciplines, it is not necessarily the most popular of seasons within the church year. Yet, for many of us, it is actually a deeply meaningful season that allows us to celebrate Easter with all the greater joy.
I am one who loves the Lenten season because I believe it is reflective of all the times in our lives when we feel beset by temptation, brokenness or sin. The time Jesus spent in the wilderness becomes symbolic of any of the times we have personally felt that we were in a wilderness of some kind— be it a wilderness of sorrow, pain, depression or a period where we feel spiritually lost or adrift. All of us have such times, and though they obviously may not always happen in coordination with the church year season of Lent, our experiences of Lent will guide us through those times in our lives whenever they occur.
The most meaningful Lent of my life was three years ago, during the spring of 2010. During that particular Lent, my beloved Mom was diagnosed with dementia, a most dreaded and difficult illness. As my family and I agonized over this diagnosis and what it meant for the future, I found that every Lenten service I attended, and every Lenten hymn I sang, gave voice to my internal turmoil and fear. I found it profoundly comforting that my faith and church didn’t require me to pretend that I was always strong, happy and had it all together. Rather, my faith and church acknowledged honestly the wilderness in which my family and I found ourselves. Knowing that Christ had spent time in the wilderness, and was with us in our present wilderness time, was deeply comforting and assuring. Whenever we find ourselves in a wilderness of any kind, we can trust that we are not alone— Christ is with us. May this realization deepen our Lenten journey.