A few years ago I put together this set of creative ideas for Lent, it reflected where I was then. As in previous years the stats tell me it is being picked up again as people look for Lent ideas.
In many ways my view of Lent has changed a bit since then in part through reading some of the Maggi Dawn archive material on the subject. The other reason it has changed is because of a sermon I did during lent a couple of years ago. Within it I focused on the fact that we often try to manufacture our suffering during lent, trying to imitate Jesus’ temptations. However, are we actually designed to be more like the angels who came to attend Jesus after he had faced those temptations? Are we people who are called to come alongside those who have had to go through genuine suffering and attend to them and help them?
Part of my thinking on this came from the work I was doing on single parents I was doing at the time and my understanding of Genesis 21:15-19 in particular. It was clear that the angel acted as an encourager and somebody who signposted Hagar to the resources she needed. She was somebody who was in the wilderness for a reason too, and in this case had lost hope. Her life was changed by an angel of God responding, as a result of God hearing her call and pain.
I want to argue that as we prepare to enter this period of Lent we need to ask ourselves who are we and where are we? What is our role in the story this Lent? What I mean is we need to establish whether we are people who are in the wilderness or people called to support those in the desert. Are we people who need to be sustained through difficult circumstances by our knowledge of scripture and by the love of God and may need signposting to resources or are we amongst those God wants to go and meet those in the desert, in order to support them and show God’s love to them?
In both situations God is involved and both sets of people are totally dependent upon God, but in different ways. Whilst it may seem that only the wilderness role involves suffering the “angel role” also requires giving things up in order to fulfil that calling. Time will be involved and it may also need us to step outside of our natural comfort zone.
When I started writing this I was going to give some suggestions of what you might do for Lent, depending upon your role but I can’t. Lent when looked at like this is something very personal. If you are in the wilderness this Lent you will know exactly why that is and it will be something incredibly personal to you. If you are not in the wilderness you need to be praying and listening to God in order to discover which bit of wilderness you need to go to and how you need to be responding to the person God wants you to discover there. This wilderness experience may be personal or corporate – again we don’t know.
There are examples, most notably during the exodus, when groups of people found themselves going through wilderness experiences and having their needs met in that situation. Equally when Jesus was going through his period of temptation there was more than one angel who came to attend him. Yet for Hagar it was one angel and a single parent and her child involved. Again the wilderness experience is personal and contextual.
So this Lent I want to encourage you away from the spiritual self-improvement of that previous post and into something more abstract and difficult.