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In the wilderness with Jesus

It is predictable as ashes on the first day of Lent; by the second week, I’m discouraged. Usually, I’ve learned that my plans weren’t at all reasonable and I have to fine-tune them. Usually, I’m dismayed by my inability to hit all the points of prayer and alms and fasting in a seamless way. Lent at this point is exactly what I need: a stark reminder that conversion takes time and patience and perseverance. Still, it somehow surprises me that I am completely unable to undergo the conversion I want for this season within the first week and that it’s not yet time for the Easter celebration.


Lent is long. That’s a good thing. We begin with the enthusiasm of a season stretching before us full of promise, and as it lengthens, we can see the wisdom of that extended string of days. We have time for introspection and soul-searching. We have time to reach out with repentance and forgiveness.

Lent is also a time of waiting. We wait with Jesus in the desert. If we can be patient and stop ourselves from running ahead of Him and barreling through the season on fire with grandiose self-help ideas, He’ll meet us where we are. And He’ll show us where He wants us to go. That might not be where we want to go. A good Lent is rarely without surprises. Be patient. There is beauty in the wait.

That desert experience is vulnerable — there’s nowhere to hide out there in the barren stretch of desolate landscape. Lent is most fruitful when we’re willing to bare ourselves to our Lord, to invite Him into the places we hide from the world — the dank, dirty paces that we fill with shame. If we our vulnerable, He will transform them.

Vulnerability is more than inviting someone into my house when I know there’s laundry piled on the living room couch. It’s more than taking and posting a selfie without makeup. Vulnerability is even more than admitting I don’t have it all together. Vulnerability is admitting I’m afraid that I will never have it all together, that I will never know the questions, never mind the answers. True vulnerability — the kind we can only have if we are completely authentic with God Himself — takes me to the places that I’m afraid are broken beyond repair, too broken even for the Creator and Savior. Vulnerability invites God into my shame.         

It’s in the wilderness of that Lenten desert that God will speak into shame. Sometimes, I’m like Gomer, who kept running and running as if she could outpace the Lord. He didn’t give up. Instead, He said, “therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” (Hos 2:13-16)  

Lent holds open the door of hope. Can I respond with childlike faith, secure in the love of my Father and without all reservations of both pride and shame? Instead of looking at Lent as a six-week crash course on self-improvement or the impetus to reform my diet, can I see it as time with Jesus in the wilderness, discovering the best of what He hopes for me?

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018