Let’s start here: whatever it is we’re searching for in Lent, it will bring us joy when we find it. It’s not just that it will be good for us – this isn’t about eating your vegetables – but it will be the source of real joy. That’s the promise.
Lent can sound so grim – giving up this or taking on that thing that we don’t want to do enough to do it the rest of the year – that we can forget that seeking joy is at the heart of it. So, the first question of Lent is, “what would give you joy if you found it?”
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13)
The first thing to notice here is that those people knew what would give them joy.
Maybe you have a place of refreshment in your life, a place you return to regularly. Maybe it’s a cabin by a lake or a place to ski, maybe it’s an apartment in the city. We love these places because they allow us to focus on a certain quality of life: hanging around in the water, spending undistracted time with people we love, being energized by the noise of the city or relaxed by the solitude of the country. Lent can be a time of refreshment in our lives, too: a time to discover and focus on the source of our peace and hope, so that we can learn to inhabit peace and hope more of the rest of the year as well.
It’s a time to indulge in the luxury of taking ourselves seriously, to examine our lives honestly, identifying the things that get in the way, that distract us from what we know in our heart of hearts is important. It’s a time to focus.
Next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will once more be invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (BCP, page 264) And we’ll hear the prayer book call us to “cleanse [our] hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast.” (page 379).
As an old friend of mine likes to say, “God comes to us disguised as our life.” There’s treasure buried in the field of our lives; Lent is a time to focus so that we can discover the joy of finding it.