The season of Lent has begun. As we gather for worship on Ash Wednesday, we begin our forty-day journey toward Good Friday and Easter. As you may or may not know, Easter was the first holy day celebrated by Christians. (We might think it would be Christmas, but it was actually Easter.) And in the early days of the church, the forty days of Lent developed as a season of self-examination to help Christians prepare for the powerful news of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
In many ways the season of Lent is a gift to us. An invitation to go deeper in our life with Christ. What does Lent mean to you? How do you walk through these forty days of preparation? Do you give up something–like sweets or Tweets? Do you take on a new practice like driving the speed limit or reading the Bible every day?
To be honest, many of us (including me) often see Lent as an opportunity to break a bad habit or to start a good one. We take the forty days as a “trial run,” giving up something that we know we should probably give up anyway. Or, we take on a practice to which we really should commit all year round, but we choose to give it only forty days. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But what often happens is that we make Lent about us and not about Jesus. It becomes a “self-help” season instead of a season when we recognize our helplessness and turn to God.
In another sense, though, Lent is about us. It is a season that calls us to deep self-examination. We are invited to look into our hearts and into our daily lives in order to recognize our sin and our need for God. Ash Wednesday confronts us right off the bat with our sin, our mortality and our brokenness. We are reminded, as we begin the journey of Lent, that we are utterly dependent on God’s grace. Then, we step into Lent committed to confronting our need each and every day.
One of the things I’m going to do this year during Lent as a way of acknowledging my need for God is to practice the prayer of examen, an ancient way of praying that helps us examine our lives each and every day. Here’s how it works: At the end of each day, take a few moments to review the day and ask yourself, “Where did I experience God’s love today? When did I show God’s love and mercy?” After reflecting for a few moments, turn to a harder question: “When did I turn away from God today? When was I an obstacle to mercy and love? What might God have wanted me to do differently today?” I think I’ll use a journal to help me reflect on these questions, but you could just ask them of yourself as you get under the covers each night to go to sleep.
This prayer practice on the surface seems very self-focused but in practice turns us toward God. It helps us to reflect on our daily lives and to be aware of God’s presence with us all the time. If you’re looking for a way to mark the season of Lent this year, join me in practicing the prayer of examen. And let’s keep each other posted on what we’re learning.