Lent this year comes at the end of a long winter. The gray skies and lack of sunshine can be taxing on our spiritual and psychological health, and we may not feel motivated to enter into this holy season. But Lent can be forty days of opportunity for growth and renewal, a time to focus on God and his Son’s sacrifice. Your spiritual and psychological states can blossom back to health during Lent to usher in the spring with your heart and mind prepared for God.
Winter can seem so disheartening that I often pray for an early spring in order to enjoy my favorite flowers, tulips, before Lent begins. In my family it has become a tradition during Lent to practice a “tulip fast” and not display fresh flowers in order to contrast the Easter season that we fill with fresh bouquets. When I get to enjoy early blooming tulips before I clear my Lenten table, I feel that summer and a lightness of heart is right around the corner. When the winter lasts a little longer or Lent arrives earlier in the year and I don’t get to enjoy the early blooms, I can still feel the winter begin to recede because the “tulip fast” reminds me of what is important in my life. The tulips are beautiful and missed during Lent, and that absence reminds me to appreciate the presence of God’s beautiful love, which isn’t affected by the coming and going of the seasons. I am reminded to use Lent as an opportunity to grow in my love for God.
How can we grow in our love of God?
Jesus’ human form on the cross is a powerful image, and it’s a perfect point of focus for the Lenten season. As we prepare to witness and appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we can visualize the beams that comprise the cross. The vertical beam of the cross reminds us of our relationship with God. This beam is necessary to uphold the cross. It is embedded in the earth while reaching for heaven. God supports us throughout our time on the earth and gives us the grace to reach heaven.
Our relationship with God affects every other relationship in our lives. How we treat others can demonstrate our level of focus on and love for God. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). The horizontal beam of the cross reminds us of our relationships with others. This beam stabilizes the cross and reaches out into the world, just as our human relationships can stabilize us on earth and encourage us to spread God’s love throughout the world. Our relationships with others can give us an understanding of God that we might not experience otherwise. Relationships present Christ to our world in a special way that allows us to see Christ in others and have others see Christ in us.
How to celebrate Lent
For some, the Lenten season can become filled with overly scrupulous goals. We don’t need to change everything about our relationship with God in forty days. Focusing on prayer and fasting to such an extent that you forget the purpose of the act can become a roadblock to your spiritual goals. Lent is a time to focus on Christ and his sacrifice, to focus on his phenomenal love for us, and to focus on uniting ourselves with Christ more deeply. “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying” (Ephesians 6:24).
Finding a balanced way of strengthening your relationship with Christ this Lent is important. What one prayer would you like to add, renew, or deepen this Lent? What one fasting practice would you like to engage in for the forty days of Lent? Your relationship with Christ can deepen greatly with a stronger spiritual focus on one prayer practice and one fasting practice throughout Lent, rather than several prayers and fasts that contain no spiritual depth. Remember that quality is more important and more effective than quantity when developing and deepening relationships.
Improve your relationship with others
Lent is a time to work on personal spiritual growth, but it’s also a time to ensure that your spiritual growth is bearing fruit. “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14–17).
Some people fall into the trap of thinking, “I don’t need to get involved because someone else will do it,” but this kind of thinking takes away our opportunity to grow in relationships with others. Love and charity stabilize our relationship with God and manifest God’s love on earth in ways that bring the hope of Christ to the hopeless. What one way can you reach out to others this Lent? Your relationship with others can be strengthened by really focusing on your family when they ask for your attention or by collecting food from the neighborhood for the nearest food bank. Even the simplest acts of love and charity will strengthen our worldly and heavenly relationships, reflect Christ’s love, and bring him glory.
The more deeply you are able to live your Lenten commitments, the more quickly your winter doldrums will lift to expose a renewal and strengthening of spirit, love, and relationships. With a focus on a deepened relationship with God and a deepened relationship with others, the Easter season ushers in our hearts a beauty that is reflected in the spring around us. Every year at the end of Lent, my husband goes on a quest for the last tulips of the season to decorate our Easter table. The arrival of these beautiful flowers reminds me that what is truly beautiful is the God who provided them.