A Lenten Call to Joy


This morning at breakfast, Seth (our 11-year-old) asked, “Do you think we could have a half-Lent fast? I think 20 days is plenty.”

I get the sentiment, especially if we view Lent primarily as 40 days of rigorous, clenched-teeth discipline. However, Lent offers a profound gift – the possibility of shedding clunky baggage, of releasing old wounds, of returning to a simplicity we crave but have difficulty embracing. Lent hands us a solid reason to resist the many distractions, impulses and confusions that own us, even though we cringe each time we recognize their tyranny. Lent gives us permission to cut away messy entanglements, to reduce the noise. Lent arrives as a cleanse for the soul. Lent invites us to shed everything that inhibits our joy.

In these wilderness days, we are moving somewhere, moving toward Easter. Lent comes from an old saxon word meaning length, referring to the lengthening of days as we move toward Spring. In Lent, we begin to shake off the dirt, the slumber, the cold. We lift our eyes, hopeful, eager for the bright sun to pour into us again. But the winter is still here now, and there is work to do.

When we take on a Lenten fast or give ourselves to a particular Lenten practice, we embark on a journey, answering the call toward the resurrection sure to come. We ready ourselves for joy. Fasts remind us that the the love of God is our truest food, the nourishment we must have or else we die. When we surrender an obsession, or add a new rhythm of prayer or creativity or watchfulness, we do so because we long for the simplicity of grace. Wearied by our muddled, complicated, love-shorn lives, we yearn for the joy. And we will have it, by God.

One Lent years ago, compulsive guilt held my mind and heart in a chokehold. Every day, I woke to the runaway thoughts and went to bed with them still tapping their tune. Enduring the craziness for more than a year, the anxiety began to gobble up my life, my presence with my boys, my work, my intimacy with Miska. Each year, Miska and I help one another decide our Lenten rhythm. That year, Miska said, “I think that for Lent you should give up guilt.” It might sounds zany, and Miska certainly wasn’t suggesting my compulsions could simply be dismissed by a mental sleight of hand. Anyone who has ever tried to not think something knows that’s a train wreck. Miska was suggesting, however, that Lent provided me an excuse to step off the merry-go-round, an opportunity to say, you know, I’m going to have to put the guilt on hold for at least 40 days.

My spiritual practice was to not worry about all the evil things I believed about myself, all the ways I feared I might be a screwup. That Lent didn’t cure my mess (sometimes we need time or friends, drugs or a good psychiatrist), but it certainly did make room for joy, room that would not have been available to me otherwise.


5 Replies to “A Lenten Call to Joy”

  1. Thank you for this very wise, joyous perspective on Lent. I’ve been feeling a lot of fear lately. (I just finished reading Revelation. Ugh.) And am leaning towards just trusting the One whose loves reaches to the heavens. Your wife is wise. May you and your family have a joyous Lenten season and weather that isn’t too fierce as spring makes its way towards us.

  2. Last year I gave up unbelief for Lent. I realize that sounds ridiculous for a “mature” believer to say…but it’s much like your giving up guilt, I think. We know what we know, but grasping the power to live it can sometimes be harder than we imagined. Though I didn’t know it was what I was doing, in that private season of darkness, I made “room for joy” by deciding to live what I said I believed even in my places of unbelief. Who would have ever thought that would be a spiritual discipline. Thank you for this, Winn.

  3. Thank you not only for writing, but thank you for sharing with us. I have enjoyed so much your thoughts and wisdom.
    I am Catholic and I love Lent. It is my favorite time of the Liturgical year. It draws me into the life and sufferings of Jesus during the forty days that we fast, pray, and journey with him on His way through His agony in the garden, His arrest, His trial, His scourging, His being crowned with thorns and mocked, His carrying of the cross, His stumbling. and His crucifixion. We walk it with Him and meditate on it to the point that we are really there with Him. We truly “enter into this. We are stirred to the core with the great price of redemption He paid for us. Ah, then there is Good Friday….which really isn’t so good. He is crucfied, taken from the cross and buried. The world is without Him as He is in the tomb. What darkness, emptiness, and hopelessness we experience without Him.
    Then, oh what glory we experience and feel on Easter morning when our Savior returns to us. He has set us free! He is our Lord, Savior, Lamb of Redemption, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd, Love, Grace, Mercy, Beloved, Master, Healer, THE GREAT I AM!!!!
    We have suffered along with Him. We have died with Him. We are now Redeemed and Resurrected to new Life with Him.That is what Lent is all about. Why would we want to shorten our length of time for this beautiful experience of walking and experiencing this journey of being with our Lord is all about. How we are drawn to love Him more as we see the price He paid for each of us. It only leads us to love Him more. It is glorious! How precious is His love for us. How priceless it is that we see, know, feel and accept it.
    I LOVE LENT! It takes me on a marvelous journey to the GLORY of Easter!
    I did not mean to say this much; just wanted to share. Thank you!

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