A Halfway Lent Check

A couple of weeks ago, on the first Sunday of Lent, I preached about a different way to look at this season. Instead of making it the Olympics of self-denial or religious practices, I invited us all to take it as an opportunity to lean deeper into our identity as beloved children of God, and to take on whatever habits or practices helped us experience that belovedness. (If you missed this sermon or want to rewatch, you can find it here.)

Well, now that we’re halfway through the six weeks of Lent, I’m back to ask:

How’s it going?

Did you take up the invitation? Did you find that some of the things you were doing regularly left you feeling…something short of beloved? Did you find that there are practices or relationships or just things you can do that helped you feel special and valued and cherished by God?

Or did you sink back into the ordinary way of doing things, centered entirely around the hustle and bustle, the demands of each day that don’t cease, and did you find yourself listening again to the drumbeat of our culture: more, more, more? Did you succumb to the lie that no matter what you do, or how much you accomplish, you’re never enough?

You would be forgiven, of course, if you did. I admit that I have already more than a few times. It’s hard, to swim upstream against the flow of all the messaging that we get every day from our phones, radios, tvs, and computers. There’s always something more to buy, some more pounds to drop, some more muscle to tone, some new clothing to wear, to ensure that you are enough. To ensure that you are loved.

So says the world.

But the message of scripture, and I think especially the Lenten desert story, is that despite all these messages saying if you are God’s beloved child, planting a seed of doubt, the truth is: you are. Forever and always. No matter what.

I’ve been trying to practice my Lent in this way; to engage with the people, the habits, the behaviors and practices that help me really believe I am beloved, and feel it.

And I’ve noticed a couple of things.

The first is that this is hard. That the powers and principalities in this world do not want me or you to believe this. Because if we don’t believe we’re beloved, if we doubt it, if we refute it, then at the very least someone can make a profit off us. Selling us the beauty product or the home furnishing or the diet pill or whatever else will make us feel unique and special and important. But also we’ll be easily distracted from the call of the gospel and the building of God’s kingdom because we’re feeling too rotten in ourselves to do anything, to think we have a message worth sharing or help worth contributing.

There are probably many other reasons that this is so hard. Those are just two that I’ve come up against in a few weeks of this Lenten practice.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that God provides, even as we wrestle.

When Jesus withstood his own desert temptations, angels came and cared for him.

And I believe that when we stare down the voices and the influences that want to question our identity as beloveds, and when we bring those insecurities or fear to God, God will once again provide.

I was wrestling last weekend with feeling isolated, far from my community, too overwhelmed by all the tasks I had to do, to feel connected or valued. And I went on a retreat with some fellow ECC Clergywomen, and in a matter of two days I felt the opposite: wholly myself, wholly loved. It was not what I expected, but just what I needed.

Similarly, this Saturday I was having a hard day, feeling again lonely and disconnected, frustrated with some relationships in my life. And the next day, some dear friends I haven’t spent time with in a while invited me for dinner that night.

I wrestled, and God provided. And at the end of it all, I remembered that I was beloved.

I’m curious if you have experienced anything similar: the struggle, the questions, the gifts of grace. If you’re also finding it hard and ultimately very important to lean into your belovedness this way.

Whatever your experience in this season turns out to be, my prayer for you, and me, and all of us, is that we come to the other side of Lent assured and convicted: we are beloved. Forever and always. No matter what.

-Pastor Jen

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