The season of Lent is upon us. However, as I reflect on my formative years, Lent was always that looming darkness, echoing over and over again to me: You’ll never be good enough, You’re just a bad kid, Who are you trying to fool?

A complicated history with Lent

I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten through grade eight. Our teachers successfully taught us about Jesus being God’s Son, how He died on the cross and then rose again. They explained how we were all sinful and needed forgiveness. It was for that reason that we would attend the Ash Wednesday service which marked the beginning of the season of Lent. We were all required to go to confession and then go forward to have the ashes marked as a cross on our foreheads.

I would go into that confessional feeling very fearful. I knew the bad things I had done and I wondered if I would get into trouble if I said them out loud. I also was embarrassed to admit them to someone else. However, there was a sense of relief when I would exit that confessional. It was a relief mixed with hope that maybe this time I could do better. I would try really hard to clean up my language and be nicer to those around me. I would make a better effort to attend church and just try to be a better person. I wish I could say that my efforts brought about change, but my reality was that before those ashes would fade away from my forehead, my relief and hope was long past. A foul word would slip, the fights began and I resigned myself to the fact that it was good while it lasted but that I was just a bad kid and God must be very disappointed in me. Life would go back to the regular routine until the next season of Lent would come and history would repeat itself as I tried once again to hold onto that sense of relief and hope a little longer, only to have it come to a crashing halt. I know it’s coming, but maybe this time it will last, I would think.

Understanding the truth of Jesus

It was many years later that I learned Jesus died so that I could have a relationship with Him. I surrendered my heart to Him and that became the start of discovering who Jesus is and what He really wants of me. I would love to be able to say that my struggle to be good disappeared that day or that I have since lived in spiritual harmony with the Lord without fail – but that has not been the case, and I dare say that no one else could say that either.

A significant part of this relationship with Jesus has been in the discovery of His grace and mercy towards me.

I still remember one day when I was singing the hymn “Amazing Grace” and I was hit with the fact that we were not singing about a saint named Grace! You may find that obvious and somewhat humorous, but growing up in an environment where Grace was a very common name for a girl and saints were highly valued, I had made the innocent conclusion that “Amazing Grace” was a song about a woman that helped lost people. When I realised that the song was actually about God and how He reached out and saved me when I didn’t deserve it, I found myself weeping at the realisation.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me share
I once was lost, but now am found was blind but now I see.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

The truth of Lent

For many years, I avoided anything to do with Lent. I always associated it with failure and condemnation and wanted to be free from the feeling that God would never be pleased with me. I knew the process of sanctification was ongoing. I believed the Scriptures that say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and “. . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion . . .” (Philippians 1:6). On the flip side, I could also understand first-hand the struggle that the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 7, about not doing what I want to and doing those things that I don’t want to! The struggle with the sinful nature was real. Many times it felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back. And I still do.

A couple of years ago, I was surprised to find that I was feeling drawn to be more intentional in preparing for Easter. I wanted to be more focused on what it cost Christ to die on my behalf. It’s no big surprise that this led me to a different understanding of Lent. I have never really understood my resistance to Lent until I read something recently by Ann Voskamp that made total sense:

“Lent is not about making anybody acceptable to a Saviour – but about making everybody aware of why they need a Saviour.”

I used to think that Lent was about doing things to make me good enough. Now I understand that Lent makes me aware that I am not good enough, but Jesus is! What a shift. What pressure released. I get it now! As I prepare my heart for this Easter season, I am accepting His gift of something that I could never do.

© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Pauline Doerksen

Pauline, and her husband Sam, are the co-directors of Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Pines Retreat Centre, located in Manitoba. There, they work with a team of volunteers to offer rest, recovery and help to couples in ministry.

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