Several weeks ago it dawned on me that Lent was just three days away. I experienced a sinking feeling—the kind of feeling that made my shoulders slump and my head drop a little.
As I reflected on this physical and emotional response, I realized that Lent felt like a burden—one more thing to add to my already-full life. I felt weary and I didn’t want another thing to have to manage.
Lent is often described as a season of repentance and reflection. Growing up, I was taught that repentance meant “to turn away,” and more specifically, “to turn away from sin.”
I’m a person that tends to feel guilt and shame easily. Because I already struggle with feeling bad or “not good enough,” the thought of entering into a season focused on “turning away from sin” felt oppressive. I know God isn’t oppressive, so it got me wondering if there was something missing or off about my understanding of repentance. It turns out that there was.
The Hebrew word for repentance is “t’shuvah,” which means “to turn” or “to return.” It can mean to turn away from sin, but it can also mean to turn toward God or to re-turn to God.
When we focus solely on turning away from sin, we can get caught up in the willpower game and we get stuck. A better approach is to ask God to help us identify the things that we tend to turn to for security instead of turning to God.
Through this kind of prayerful reflection God has helped me see that when I’m under stress I tend to put my nose to the grindstone and work harder. My tendency is to turn to over-work and my own abilities, rather than to God, for help. Much of my life I’ve also turned to sugar to comfort me in times of distress and sadness instead of turning to God for consolation.
With this fuller understanding of the meaning of repentance, Lent feels different. I’m experiencing Lent as a reminder and an invitation to return to my Beloved and to my identity as God’s beloved. This, of course, is not just a once-a-year invitation. It’s the ongoing, central invitation of our lives.
Are you aware of the things that you tend to turn to under stress? What practices or life rhythms might help you turn, or return, to God throughout the day/week?