I know that the liturgical year begins, rightly, with the season of Advent and the culminating celebration of Christmas. However, in a very real way, Lent always feels like the beginning of the year for me. It is such a bold and uplifting and powerful invitation to begin a new and truly joyous life, to break away from old habits that have closed me in and hidden me away from the gaze of the One who loves me.
Lent is, in some sense, like an invitation to a national competition--say swimming or surfing-- for me. I then have to prepare for the competition. I train, and I work out, and I eat or don't eat as I should, and I tune in to what my coach is telling me, and I practice, practice, practice. The goal is right there in front of me--I can feel it, taste it, touch it. But alone, I cannot attain it. I need the support of my friends, my family, and most of all my Coach--the one who wants me to win and succeed even more than I do. The competition is not, as many might think, the season of Easter, but the rest of my changed life. And the prize is the eternal crown that never fades.
That is, Lent promises me the possibility of change. I can't do it on my own, but change is possible. Indeed, given the desire and the will, change is even likely--for better or for worse--that's up to me. So, I look at Lent and see a season of discipline and hard work--but there is a purpose to it. Lent is also a season of inspiration--there is a reality to be grasped, growth to be achieved, a new life to attain. And God has already promised and committed His help through His son and directly in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit who whispers and sometimes yells His encouragement directly to my flagging spirit.
Each Lent I read so much about the discipline, the sacrifice, the hardship. But, for me, Lent boils down to keeping or breaking training--do I really want the prize on the other side of the effort or am I only playing at it.
The metaphor may not work for all, but I hope it works to help you understand how I approach Lent, how I view it, why it is always a great burst of hope and joy for me. And this year, with God's help, I intend to keep training and to take the prize--and from there to move onward and upward--to do as He desires me to do and keep ascending because whether we like it or not we are all (or at least all who desire to) "climbing the stairway to Heaven."