If I asked you to describe Lent in one word, what would you say? I’m guessing suffering, sacrifice or fasting might come to mind. But what about words like heaven? Perfection? Even eternity?
It’s easy to consider the “earthly” aspects of Lent. For most of us, I think Lent gets a reputation for its focus on suffering and death. We think of Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the routine Lenten fasts that can feel like more of an obligation than anything. No wonder it can be so difficult to psych ourselves up for yet another Lenten season.
But hidden within Lent are a few elements most people have forgotten about. Secrets that have the ability to make it a fruitful, fulfilling and even joyful experience for us. These two forgotten secrets are heaven and God the Father, and a deeper dive into each of them just might change everything.
First is the secret that Lent is the perfect time to think of heaven. Why? Because heaven is the true and proper end we were made for. Not fasting, not suffering, not death, but the glory of heaven! Certainly, the imperfect moments are part of our story, but they are certainly not the whole.
Really, it’s like reading a book. What if we read the first few chapters of every book but then stopped before the ending? Or, if once we made it to the sad parts, we quit and put the book down? That would be crazy! The middle of the book, the tragedies — they’re all part of the story, but they don’t mean anything without the ending. This is what Lent without heaven is like — it’s like reading some of a book without finishing and getting to the good parts.
I think we’ve all experienced how there can be little pieces of heaven even in the midst of our sufferings. My personal experience with this was in college. Right before graduating, I broke up with the boyfriend I’d had since freshman orientation, the one who all my future plans were delicately hinged on. A breakup might not sound like the worst trauma, yet I can confidently say it was one of the most painful times of my life. But right in the midst of my sorrow, I came across this Mother Teresa quote: “Suffering … is nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.” And oh my, was my suffering transformed! The more I thought of suffering in terms of heaven, the closer to heaven I actually felt. The deeper the pain I was in, the more tangibly I experienced being held in God’s arms. What a difference the heavenly perspective can make!
The second secret is that Lent is the perfect time to remember God the Father. Have you ever noticed that the Father can become the forgotten member of the Trinity? If you’re ever curious, try asking people which member of the Trinity they most often pray to. You’d be surprised by the answers. Jesus is a natural one because of his humanity and the familiarity it brings. We can picture a human body and face. We can hear his actual words, printed in the Bible for all to read. We can unite our human emotions to the ones he experienced on earth. Then, we have the Holy Spirit. Although once difficult to picture, the charismatic movement in the Church has drawn us closer to him more than ever before, calling us to embrace the fruits and movements of the Spirit in our lives.
Which, of course, leaves us with the Father. In many ways, he appears the most ambiguous and confusing member of the Trinity to know. We are presented with stale images of an old man with a long beard that does nothing to contribute to the loving gentleness he has for us. That’s why this Lent we should remember the one dynamic element of the Father that we can always relate to — his fatherhood, his parenthood! God has all the beauty and compassion of the best earthly parents among us, and then some.
And he is a parent who made quite a difficult decision. The decision to give us Jesus. The decision that would lead to the death of his son. We can only imagine that the Father must have been thinking of heaven, too, when he made this decision. Because only with the vision of heaven in our eyes does all this suffering make sense.
So, if we really want to unlock the secret of Lent this season, we should think of heaven. We should remember the Father. And we just might find a little gratitude in our hearts that there’s a lot more of our story to be read, and it has a happy ending.