Like many things in the liturgical calendar, Lent is what you make of it. For some people, lent is a time to give up Facebook or dessert, stripping away a worldly pleasure to more identify with Christ’s suffering. Some use it as second act for failed New Year’s resolutions. But Lent goes deeper. The events and seasons on the liturgical calendar can be great guides, facilitating worshipful experiences and reflections that deepen one’s understanding of God and their need of Him. Seasons like Advent often guide believers into a deeper understanding of the brilliant hope found in the coming of Jesus Christ while awaiting His return. In contrast, Lent is a season of darkness.
The six-week season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Familiar to many only by the external sign placed upon foreheads, Ash Wednesday services act as a mirror for the Church, assisting believers to better understand the depths of human depravity. Recently, I heard a speaker do this in a session simply by asking the question, “How did we get here?” With each headline from the latest newsreel, she would state this question emphatically, almost serving as a liturgical litany. For Christians who walk in the glorious light of the Risen Savior, sometimes its good to remember just how dark the world can be. It’s good for us to re-sensitize ourselves to the pain found in God’s creation. It can wake us up to the reality that we need Jesus here and now, compelling us to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” This type of examination is what we find in the laments of Israel; acknowledgement of guilt by association and saddened by the horror the nation had become.
And yet, there is still need to go deeper.
It is one thing to examine the cosmic brokenness of God’s creation; to survey the vast, global scale of brokenness and weep and mourn over it. It is another thing to identify your own personal and secret contributions. If we stop with a survey of the brokenness in the world, we have only participated in external examination. Lent is a season of examination and introspection. One definition of introspection is to examine one’s own mental and emotional processes. Using this definition, introspection for believers should entail examining one’s own personal responsibility for the brokenness in the world. It’s an in-depth look at what is broken in us.
I understand this can be unpopular, especially among Millennials. Social justice will always be more sexy than personal holiness. But, let’s be clear: social justice and personal holiness are not mutually exclusive, and Christians can and should care about both. Self-examination and repentance are critical to a life changed by the Gospel. The Gospel is good news because it brings hope to all despair. As the popular saying goes, “one needs to understand the bad news before they can understand the good news.” One cannot fully receive the grace God bestows through His Gospel without true introspection and repentance.
Yet another reason why we should take care to deepen our introspection in this season is that we are often prone to let ourselves off the hook. The sin of self-righteousness is stealthy. While we guard against attitudes of, “Look how good I am,” but we may find ourselves saying, “At least, I’m not like those other people who _____.” Jesus warns His followers about such behavior in several places. The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is pithy illustration of how God’s grace is received by those approaching God with a penitent heart. It is an essential part of Christ’s Gospel call, “repent and believe the gospel.”
The Millennial generation, to which I belong, are excellent practitioners in corporate speck-finding. We can identify brokenness in the world and point blame at those who are not joining causes to relieve or repeal these injustices and tragedy. Yet for all the brokenness we point out in the world, we need to pause and notice the plank-sized offenses we commit by severing relationships through group association, incubating lusts, indulging in covert idolatry, or simply hardening our hearts to the plight of our actual “neighbors,” because it’s not nearly as exotic, broken, or popular.
Given the exposure Christians have to the brokenness of this world, 2017 is a great time to make the most of Lent and introspection. It is by thorough introspection that the Holy Spirit can compel believers to not only say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but also, “Lord, have mercy.” By understanding just how fallen we are, corporately and individually, we can experience the depths of God’s marvelous grace as we draw near to the throne of that grace, where Christ Himself mediates on our behalf before the Father in Heaven. And so fully embracing the darkness of this Lenten season can result in fresh revelations of God’s marvelous grace.