Have you ever experienced that horrible sinking feeling when a radar trap or speed camera might have caught you going above the speed limit? It is very easy to have a momentary lapse in concentration and to exceed the speed limit, especially in an area which rejoices in a 20mph restriction, but the rules are there to prevent injury or loss of life, and of course, even two miles too fast can kill.
When the weeks have passed by without any sign of a penalty notice and you know you are in in the clear, the relief is enormous, but that anxious wait usually serves the purpose of deepening our resolve to stay within the speed limit in the future and never to transgress by even one mile. The lesson has been learned and with the proverbial slate wiped clean, it feels as if we are experiencing a new beginning.
Lent is a new beginning, albeit one that is sometimes rather laborious. While most people look towards Christmas and Easter with varying degrees of excitement, few are particularly overjoyed at the prospect of Lent. Yet the season gives us so many opportunities to deepen our commitment to our faith and to start afresh if we have lapsed. It is a wonderful time of grace.
Not looking forward to Lent, however, is understandable: the human heart doesn’t naturally relish the prospect of a Lent-related, self-imposed penance. We are far more inclined to opt for an easy life rather than gravitate towards self-deprivation, discipline, soul-searching and the taking on of additional, albeit voluntary, commitments in order to properly observe the spirit of this sacred season.
Perhaps our new year, so recently celebrated, has led to a triumph of will and determination from those who have so far been able to stick to their resolutions. Conversely, there is a certain sense of defeat if we have already ditched our good intentions along with the Christmas wrapping paper, in these first weeks of 2020.
In preparing for Lent, some find it helpful to begin by reflecting on how much God has forgiven us in life; how many new beginnings he has offered; and how much help he has unstintingly provided at every moment – if we are prepared to look for it.
Remembering the times of forgiveness doesn’t mean being held hostage to past mistakes. Instead they recall God’s mercy and willingness to pick us up and love us into getting back on track. God does not want us to fail and isn’t lying in wait to exact punishment, or make us loathe ourselves: ‘A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smouldering wick he shall not quench’ (Isaiah 42:3). In other words, our infinitely merciful God is a God of second chances.
Worrying about the past merely stifles and ruins our present peace of mind, yet being mindful of the lessons learned from mistakes helps us to avoid repeating them. Lent is a time to stop looking for excuses to remain in a comfortable rut and, instead, to realise how much some parts of our lives need changing. We can make it an extraordinary time to think about what God wants to give to us, explore our relationship with Him and work ‘through Him, with Him and in Him’.