Last night it dawned on me that we were already on day 14 of 40 of this year’s lent. Two weeks already! How fast! I couldn’t help but wonder what I have been doing with myself this past two weeks. What became of all the ‘resolutions’ for lent? All those habits I was to drop and the new ones I was to pick up, the devotions, the spiritual materials I was to read, the commitment to become a better person, better employee, better husband, better father? What really happened? Honestly for some resolutions, I forgot about them immediately the priest applied the ashes on my forehead-may be sooner, for others I followed through for a few days then slowly and quietly abandoned them, for some am yet to start and for a few others, am still faithful and living them although am not sure for how much longer I can manage. I had made a commitment to improve my relationship with God, that I would take full advantage on this period of grace to work towards becoming a better Christian, a better reflection on my Maker in His service and service to His creation. But now, there I was two weeks later, with nothing to write home about; the old trend had crept back in.
Unfortunately, this has been the cycle for as many Lents as I can remember; start on a high, ease out as the time progresses and by the time its Easter I can hardly remember what the resolutions were but still hope to be better behaved come next lent. This made me wonder; now that this walk with the Lord has been an on-and-off thing, a recurring pattern in life, is it possible that I have exhausted my apportioned “quota” of God’s patience? Naturally, this led to a very low moment, a moment full of feelings of hopelessness, failure and dejection. Could it be that I can never do this and God already knows that I can’t? Is it time that I gave up on these attempts?
But almost at the same instant and, as if to stop me from dropping any further into the abyss of self-pity and hopelessness, a positive thought crossed my mind – “There is something positive this time round. That some power has jolted me to remember about the resolutions at the end of week 2 of 6, and not at Easter time, cannot be by chance. This cannot be man’s doing!” And this latter thought was more powerful than the earlier one and appeared to provide me an opportunity to consider a fresh start, a new beginning, another opportunity for repentance, to go back to my Father and say ““I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” (Luke 15:21) “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130:4)”
I resolved to grab this opportunity to reset my Lenten resolutions, first by contemplating about the God we serve and who Nehemiah 9:17-18 describes as ”a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf.” In fact, reading the narration in Nehemiah Chapter 9 sounded very familiar; the Israelites had a vicious circle of states of sinfulness-repentance-forgiveness-sinfulness that lasted many generations. Their lives were a clear manifestation of how frail and imperfect human beings are and how merciful and compassionate our God is. It is very easy to dismiss the Israelites as an ungrateful people but in reality we are not any better than them. In fact, we are worse off seeing that we are unable to learn from their many run-ins with God.
I could be wrong but most likely am not the only one who has slowed down on their Lenten resolutions this year and are currently trying to find their footing as we deal with the guilt of failing God once again. Have you ever experienced similar moments of highs and lows? During such low moments we stand a real risk of judging ourselves too harshly which, instead of leading us to be remorseful for our failures and to seek God’s mercy, may lead to a further deterioration of our relationship with God as we may forget that “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him” Psalm103:10-11. With as a sincere and contrite heart, we should always be ready to go back to Him for as many times as we wrong Him just as Christ advised us in Luke 17:4.
In his book “Happiness is an Inside Job” John Powell advises that human beings should seek growth not perfection. He states that “Perfectionism is indeed a slave master. To put one’s happiness in the hands of such a master is indeed foolish. The human condition is that of weakness. We are all trial-and-error types, real mistake makers” (Page 110) He explains that growth sees life as a process during which skills are learnt and everyone of us is called upon to experience joy of getting better and better as the process will be ongoing for a lifetime. He further advises that if we set out to enjoy, we are likely to do a much better job than if we were determined to be perfect. Powell’s lessons are vital in our Christian journey as we “work out our salvation.” We should never give up but should always seek growth in our spiritual lives.
With this lessons in mind, am off to a rejuvenated lent; I resolve to maintain the momentum of the Ash Wednesday. And so should you! And should I falter again, I will pick up my lesson, go back to Him for a restoration and continue with my journey. After all its not about perfection; its GROWTH.