Missing God in Lent

By Khouria Faith Potter

January 2019

missing god in lent.jpg

We’re now well past the halfway mark of Lent. This is the time in the fast that is most challenging for me. If I have fallen short of my fasting rule, it is easy to view this Lent as a failure and want to throw in the towel and say “I’ll try again next year.” Even if I have done alright in keeping my fasting rule and mostly maintained the added spiritual practices, they have certainly lost their luster at this point and sticking with them requires more discipline. Either way, I fall back into focusing on my efforts and assessing them as success or failure.

I often forget that the goal of Lent is not a perfectly kept fast; it is love. Fasting is of course good and is an important spiritual practice, but without love, fasting is meaningless. “… and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). A perfectly kept fast can actually be spiritually dangerous to us. God doesn’t need us to do well in refraining from eating certain things. He wants our eyes to be open to His mercy in new ways. He wants us to be more aware of what in our souls needs healing, because He wants to heal us. He wants us to seek Him and in seeking Him find our true selves. He wants us to see how we are more controlled by our desires than we think we are, so that we can be more aware of our need to rely on Him moment by moment. The most spiritually beneficial Lent might be the one in which you “fail” the most.

No matter what Lent has looked like for you, it is not too late to be transformed during it this year. He meets us where we are. I love how in the days leading up to Lent, we have the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Before we start the fast, we dwell on this parable of a son who left his father and let his desires control him. When he turns back towards his father in hopes of mercy, we see the heart of the father who runs to him where he is, walks back with him, restores him, and celebrates him.

It’s easy to get caught up in our own internal narratives and miss God. The Lord isn’t looking at you with disappointment. He knows you and understands you, and He views you with unfathomable love. If you’re feeling defeated and if reminders of Lent overwhelm you with thoughts of all you could have done differently, turn your mind from those thoughts to the Lord’s loving gaze.

St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote a hymn I dearly love about God’s profound presence with us and in us. Every movement, every thought can lead us back to an awareness of His loving nearness:

We awaken in Christ’s body,

As Christ awakens our bodies

There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,

He enters my foot and is infinitely me.

I move my hand and wonderfully

My hand becomes Christ,

Becomes all of Him.

I move my foot and at once

He appears in a flash of lightning.

Do my words seem blasphemous to you?

—Then open your heart to Him.

And let yourself receive the one

Who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him,

We wake up inside Christ’s body

Where all our body all over,

Every most hidden part of it,

Is realized in joy as Him,

And He makes us utterly real.

And everything that is hurt, everything

That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,

maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged

Is in Him transformed.

And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,

And radiant in His light,

We awaken as the beloved

In every last part of our body.

Regina Nasrallah