The season of Lent is often described as a time for introspection, a time to “get in touch” with ourselves at a deeper level. If we’re at all serious about the disciplines of Lent, I can assure you that trouble lurks just around the corner. The trouble comes in the form of self-consciousness, the discovery of who we are, and that we are not what we pretend to be or aspire to be.
Self-awareness, coming to term with who we really are, can be a most terrifying discovery. And our rather pathetic attempts to cover up those parts of ourselves we’d like to hide, only highlight just how exposed we are. The trouble with Lent is the possibility of growing self-consciousness and the recognition of the limits of being human. Facing ourselves as we really are and not as we want to be or aspire to be is one of the hardest things in life.
The possibility of embracing the discipline of introspection during Lent is that in really knowing better who and what we are, we can aspire to who and what we might be. Or as someone close to me who shall remain nameless used to constantly remind me whenever I refused to consult a map on road trips: “Zack, if you don’t know where you are, you won’t know how to get to where you’re going.”
Self-awareness is hard work. And it can be a destabilizing thing for us. When we see ourselves as we really are, even for a moment, it can throw us off-balance.
But Self-Awareness can also be an enabling thing; it can be empowering in the very best sense of the word – letting us know just who we are, where we are, and most importantly whose we are.
And so the paradox is that self-awareness may very well turn out to be the Good News that awaits us as we enter into Lent – a time to gain a deeper awareness of self; a deeper awareness of all the things that seduce us and thus distract us from being our best and most authentic selves. And in the process, there is the very real possibility of growing into a deeper awareness of God and of our own need of God.
Really when you think about it, it comes down to nothing more sophisticated or complicated than knowing who we really are – without the costumes we wear, or without the various hats we wear, without the badges of honour we wear, without the various masks we wear, without the academic degrees, without the bank accounts – without all the things we use to cover up our real, most authentic selves.
The season of Lent that is before us, not only gives us permission, but also invites us to discover who we really are, our particular gifts, our particular hurts, our hidden and sometimes crushing sorrows, our hidden and sometimes wondrous joys. There’s a lot to be said for confronting the limitation of our humanity during Lent. It is precisely in the recognition of our limits that we come to know and even appreciate our need. And in getting re-acquainted with our need, we come to a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the source of all life, the source of health and wholeness, – the source of your life and mine.
I hope and pray that we can take Lent seriously, that we can enter into the deeper introspection that Lent invites. In my best and most mature moments, I truly believe that we can enter into such a Lenten journey with courage, because if we do we’ll likely be better for it, knowing that in the end, God’s love will find us.