Brave Grace: The Journey of Lent.
Life often brings catastrophic news that can blow its first punch like lightning. Trauma is seismic in the beginning. But the reality of sin, consequences, or grief can creep its way up from the gut much slower. It burns. Cause and effect are intertwined yet separated.
The theory that nothing travels faster than light is wrong, pain travels twice as fast.
So, you lean back to the reality of bad news and heartburn.
And then the questions come.
Why...? What if...? How did...?
Different scenarios haunt the mind relentlessly.
It's fascinating how quickly our minds begin to dismantle the minute devastation pounces in on our circumstances. What was once so full of anticipation and joy is now shaky and unsure. Our temperamental balance is called into question. Deep breaths are hard to push through, and our body needs centering; it's why we naturally crouch down to the ground. Good foundations are essential in life, but the question arises: are we on solid rock or sinking sand?
McCracken writes that “When we’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to get our bearings, hard to know what’s meaningful or if our compass is accurate”. 
And isn’t that the tension? Are we going the right way? What bedrock truths and practices have we cultivated in order to get through our times of despair? Will I endure?
Those of us who have lived any amount of time (especially during the last couple of years) are deeply familiar with the incredible heartache and pain that exist in this world. The truth is my go-to sin seems to be readily available during times of turmoil and stress. Instead of going to God, I go elsewhere. Anything that provides relief. I oftentimes think I need comfort in unnatural resources instead of choosing the super-natural Spirit of God.
The gracious invitation into the journey of Lent reshifts our focus.
The brave grace of Ash Wednesday encourages all of us:
To courageously enter in self-denial that transforms.
To lovingly identify those things that separate us from Jesus.
To astutely prepare our hearts and lives for the Kingdom of God.
Years of living can bring scars and bad habits. I have learned this exact lesson the HARD way time and time again. But Lent provides the chance for us to enter into a new season of discipline. To shed the things that hold us back and to put on those things that bring us closer to God. To etch God's love over those scars and bad habits.
Last year, I entered Dr. Alicia Britt Chole's "40 Days of Decrease" where I tried fasting from different things like regret, isolation, and religious profiling. Her approach to viewing Lent as a project as well as N.T Wright's influence on my life to be shaped by the resurrection power of Easter beckons me on a different Lenton journey this year. I'm staring at Ash Wednesday like an open door to journey through those wild places in my heart that need to be trimmed, wounds that need to be healed, and a relentless pursuit to get closer to Jesus.
If I'm honest with you, a little bit of disillusionment has me caught off guard this year. Grieving lost things. Looking for God to break through my heartbreak. Asking all the hard questions about myself, others, and this world.
Lent beckons me back home again.
N.T. Wright so brilliantly explains, “… left to ourselves, we lapse into a kind of collusion with entropy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present … is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.” 
Lent is the bird on my window in the morning that sings me a hymn of a different song in the morning. It is the journey of not only fasting things that separate me from God's love but ushering in those spiritual practices that make me new. Finally, Lent allows me space and time to center in and allow God’s love to minister to my broken heart all over again. Lent is one of those annual bearings in my life whether I'm crouched down or on a mountain top.
Kingdom-living comes back to the equation of my earthly circumstances. Resurrection living means I not only need to allow the Holy Spirit to work through whatever season I find myself in but that overwhelmingly my cooperation matters. To choose the brave grace of Lent knows that my posture, my bending in my knees in prayer, my reading, my training, my desire to grow, my fasting, my rooting root down further is only part of the equation. God's grace has to do the rest.
The startling truth is that if my faith lies in a resurrected Savior, then my hope is not wishful thinking ... it's embodied in the risen Lord. Our relationship matters, not religiosity. So then, I become laser-focused during Lent to my present reality: that Jesus came to be in union with me.
So, I tend to the reality of my wounds, my sin-nature, those places where I need integration. The beauty of Lent is the invitation to be truthful. I don’t have to pretend ... I just place them in their proper context. That I am beloved. A daughter to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I get on my knees. I repent. I write. I allow the Holy Spirit to revive my soul. I throw out anything that hinders my faith and get back up again.
When we fast from those things that bring immediate gratification in times of uncertainty and doubt we end up growing. We learn good endurance behavior. In suffering, we become more like Jesus.
There will always be a temptation in choosing comfort in unnatural resources, but our habits (and I would argue ultimately: our character) change when we bravely choose Spirit-informed faith over anything else.
Here's the thing I’m realizing: I don't get the chance to celebrate an eternally significant story in the way that my Heavenly Father hopes if I can't learn to respond to choosing holiness while facing the pain and discomfort of today. We get less and less Spirit-led happenstance if we keep choosing comfort in unnatural resources for our soul than the supernatural presence of the Living God. If we want to experience soul-hope when the heart's sick then we must commit to ditching everything that helps us escape the discomfort of our countenance and choose to walk in the light.
And be there, IN IT.
Manning explains that "... there is no growth without pain, no integrity without self-denial, and neither are particularly attractive apart from the personal love of Jesus Christ". 
Perhaps more than anything, the Lenten journey ultimately brings me to the foot of the cross. That the cost of love was crucifixion for God's son. That blood dripped off the flesh torn body of my Savior ... and He died so that I might be with Him for eternity.
Let’s watch what happens to our stories when we enter into Ash Wednesday to reflect, fast, and pray so that we can be reminded all over again of the resurrection power found in Easter.
Because when are courageous enough to choose the brave grace of Lent today, despite our circumstances, our desires, our sin, or our shame ... we remember that ultimately God's love covers, sanctifies, forgives, and heals us all.
“Decrease is holy only when its destination is love”
 McCracken, Sandra. 2021. Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song. B&H Publishing Group. Nashville, TN. p 25.  Wright, N.T. 2022. On Earth as In Heaven: Daily Wisdom for 21st Century Christians. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. p 13.
 Manning, Brennan. 2003. A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. p 114.
 Chole, Alicia Britt. 2016. 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. W Publishing Group. Nashville, TN. p 2.
Photo by Jamie Ginsberg on Unsplash