So, it’s Thursday. You made it to whatever part of your day when it is that you read this–good job! It’s also the first day after Ash Wednesday–totally officially Lent.
How’s that working for you? How’s that working for your family?
Maybe you’ve got grand designs on how the season is going to go for you but have struggled with coming up with an actual plan, and so you have a go-to meditation resource that you really like. Or maybe you’re like me, and just hoping that you can keep it all together and add/subtract one more thing because the crushing guilt of not giving up or adding anything for Lent isn’t really a thing you think you should give up…or add. Maybe you’ve been really smart and have been planning this since Epiphany and have total buy-in from your family and friends, and it’s going to be amazing. Or maybe you just realized it’s Lent. (Hi! It’s gonna be ok! )
Odds are that we each fall somewhere along this spectrum of Lenten readiness and weirdness.
When I was in middle school (so long ago that it was still called Junior High…sigh…), I ran cross-country track. This is still one of the most surprising and out of character choices I have ever made, but it seemed like a good way to get into running condition for basketball season. And boy, was it ever. The worst part of cross-country weren’t the actual meets, although those were beastly. We would run on municipal golf courses all throughout Central Texas in September and October.
This may sound idyllic, but remember—September and October are still very much summertime in Texas, and Central Texas is not known for being a densely forested area. Picture dusty, browning fairways leading to improbably bright greens, slightly rolling hills, and scrubby mesquite trees, and you have the quintessential Central Texas municipal golf course.
I can count on one hand the number of hills we actually ran up or down in all our races on one hand. One hand, you guys. And yet, my coach insisted that at least one practice a week entailed running up and down and up and down and up and down the monster hill that was next to our playing fields at school.
I hated running that hill worse than I can fully articulate. It was brutal, and felt like it was a 90 degree angle instead of only a 20 or 30. I learned the hard way that if I didn’t pace myself, I was going to spend some time barfing in front of everyone. I elected to manage my pace and be last a lot, instead of that. Most of the time.
Putting one foot in front of the other, and then doing it all over again became my focus. Perfection was not something I was going to achieve in one season—but I could teach my body how to run this hill without feeling like I was actively dying.
That was one of the most important lessons I have ever, ever learned in my whole life—perfection, in that Western sense of being without flaw, wasn’t even something that entered my mind. But persistence…that was something I could hook myself into and do something with.
We talk a lot about Lent being a season of examination and discipline. And we should. Examining our hearts and motives—holding them up to the heart and motives of Jesus to see how we’re measuring up—that’s the juice of the disciplines we undertake during this season. There will be days when we don’t run well—when we fall down or throw up or cry or can’t finish.
And that is ok. We have not ruined Lent. We have not disappointed Jesus. We have just learned something new that is also hard. We can—and should—get back up and try again.
I have to remember this, as I look at an already-too-full spring calendar, the bottom line in my checking account, the faces of the people I love, the to-do-list that never seems to grow shorter, and this Lenten hill I am called to run beside my friend Jesus.
I will not be perfected during this Lent, but I will be persistent in pursuing the heart of Jesus, in examining my own heart and intentions, and in refusing to stay down when I fall or fail or can’t finish the way I want to.
Lent is about accepting that we fall down and can’t finish on our own. Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and begins his long climb up the hill, and even he falls down. But he keeps getting back up. And that is our call, too. Not perfection—but a holy and relentless persistence to keep rising, keep moving, keep pressing on toward the top of the hill, because that is where everything changes.
We’re all going to have to remember the heart of what the Church invites us to observe during this season–a holy Lent. And holy moments never come on schedule. On the other hand, I’ve seen some pretty great ones in church, too. And at the park. And with the littles I love. And on the Monster Hill. And we’ll be here to help remind each other of that, as we examine our hearts and seek holiness during this Lent, as we grow Christians day by day.
[Image credit: Public Domain via Pixabay]
Where did you learn the lesson of persistence?