I am thrilled to hear from Kimberlee Conway Ireton today. It will be our only post this week because I do not want to rush through what she has to say. Come back to it throughout the week. Next Monday we’ll have our next Help Us Understand interview. But for now, for this week, Kimberlee ministers to us and will meet us in the comments. Thank you for the gift of your presence, Kimberlee.
I love Lent. Ever since I first heard about it, decades ago now, I have loved this season. Being of a somewhat ascetic temperament, fasting is my love language. You want me to give something up? Do something hard? For God? Sign me up! As a teenager, I dreamed of being a missionary to Russia. I actually wanted to get caught and sent to Siberia. Stories of martyrs languishing in prison and dying for their faith thrilled me, and I wanted to be like them.
Then I grew up. I tasted suffering, and I did not like it. But I still liked Lent with its fasting and praying and giving things up for God.
Until this year. For the first time ever, I have actually been dreading Lent this year. You see, it’s been two years of letting go of thing after thing after thing in my life. Two years of shedding identities that have long defined me. Two years of surrendering more and more of myself to God. Two long years of Lent.
The thought of more giving up gives me pause. What else do you want, Lord? And He says, Everything. He says it gently. But He says it nonetheless.
Please do not mishear me. The past two years, despite the giving up and the letting go over and over again, have also been beautiful. I have grown so much. I can feel that my soul is larger. And I am grateful.
I am also aware that I have only begun this journey of surrender. I still have much to let go of, many miles to walk on this pilgrimage of faith and trust, and the way my heart has shrunk back in fear this Lent reminds me just how far I have to go.
But one foot in front of the other. Embrace again the traditional Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Gently. Thoughtfully. As my husband is fond of saying, “Most of life is getting your so thats right.” And that’s one of the gifts of these past two Lenten years: they have helped me get my so-thats right.
Why do I fast? For the same reason I have given up all these false selves the past two years: so that there is space for God to speak truth and love into my life.
Why do I pray? For the same reason I have let go of several idols in my life: so that I can worship God alone.
Why do I repent? So that I can face God, so that I can see Him face to face and see “the loveliness and the wonders of the world” that I so often miss because I am looking the wrong way—at my navel instead of my God and His world.
Why do I give? So that I can bless others as God has blessed me.
Lent gives these things to us—fasting, prayer, repentance, giving (and giving up)—and they are good things. Hard sometimes, but very, very good. I think of them as seeds, like in Jesus’ parable of the sower. During Lent we sow these practices in our lives, and eventually they will bear fruit, the fruit of getting our so-thats right, and even better, the fruit of drawing nearer to God in Christ.
I firmly believe that my first Lenten fast (from chocolate, I think) was such a seed, an early and necessary step on the journey that led me to these past two years and their refining. My so-thats were all wrong then, and for many years after. But God saw past my confused reasoning to my heart, and He slowly, gently drew me more deeply into a true Lent, a Lent that is less about what I do or don’t do and more about what He does and has done, a Lent that is less about doing and more about being.
I have yet to observe a true Lent. I still get horribly distracted by unimportant things. I still get caught up in the more-better-faster ethos of efficiency that is contemporary culture. I still get sucked down internet rabbit holes. But my distraction and rat-racing and rabbit-holing last less long than they used to. I come back to myself—and more importantly, to God—a lot sooner than I used to. I can’t stay in the loud and busy places for long; I crave quiet and silence and space because that’s when I hear Him, that’s when I see Him, that’s when I notice the gift that is my life.
And that is what these two years of Lent have taught me, what Lent is giving me even now: a sense that life is a gift, that each moment is ablaze with glory or awash in peace or amazing with grace. I don’t always see it. I never will. But I see more of it than I used to, and I want to see still more than I do now.
Jesus once asked a blind man, “What do you want?”
And the blind man said, “Lord, I want to see.”
Lent helps us to see. And that is why, even in this year that I was dreading it, I love this season.