The three lines in the readings for Ash Wednesday that stand out to me are “Come back to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12), “Rend your heart not your garments” (Joel 2:13), and “Your father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matt 6:4). All three lines emphasize honesty over appearance. They recognize and expose a fact of life that I do not often admit to. That is, the way I present myself to the world is very rarely the same as my own internal experience of myself. The father that sees in secret can only be myself or an outside entity that knows the inner workings of my heart and mind. Either way I must be honest and whole-hearted with him. Anything less is pointless.
Lent is the time to set things right with myself. To come back to God and myself with my whole heart is freedom from ego. The symbolic way to do this during Lent is to “give something up.” To sacrifice by giving up those things that I may like in the short-term but do not serve me in the long-term is liberating, not burdensome. I firmly believe giving something up should be voluntary. If I am not acting of my own volition, I am not acting with my whole heart. To turn away from sin is to better myself. Loving God and loving myself amount to the same thing. The opposite is true as well. A shame oriented person would give something up to appease someone else. A non-shame oriented person acts with their whole heart. Giving something up is an act of devotion both to himself and to God.
Lent is a time when I feel closest to God. It is a time when I feel the most spiritual and physically healthy. I do not know God. To be strictly honest I must say that I am agnostic. But I fall more on the side of believing in God than not believing in God. I certainly want to believe in God and there are times when my faith is stronger. I was raised in the wishy-washy world of post Vatican II Catholicism in the United States of America. Religion did not take ahold of me when I was young. I do identify with its symbols, mythology and rituals; Lent chief among them. They are all I have spiritually and I do not want to let them go. I need them to approach the infinite unknowable of existence. I do not want to be an atheist. Feelings have a lot to do with it. Believing in God feels truthful to me.
Lent is a time of year I look forward to. It is a time of spiritual renewal and transformation. It is too bad I cannot feel that way all year round because when I feel that way I feel content and grounded. For me, Lent is a time of opportunity to better myself by coming back to God with my whole heart. It is a time I do not want to waste.