Editor’s Note: Franciscan Friar Fr. Jason Welle, OFM, reflects on the idea of Lent as a race in which God is running towards us and we must not lose sight of God in the midst of all the other factors that we often focus on.
I run as a hobby. Eleven years ago, my brother and I ran a marathon together and since then we’ve been doing one together every year as a fraternal bonding experience, though we usually spend half the mileage wondering why we haven’t figured out a better way to bond than four hours of shared pain. When I tell people that I run marathons, they often react with wonder. Wow! That’s such a great accomplishment! I could never do that! I see listeners place a moral gravity and valor on this act that I have come to find confusing and that I certainly don’t place on it myself.
What I so often see at the start line of a race—and I suspect it reappears in the workaholic rat race of cubicles across the country—are people who could not quit running if they wanted to. The idea of failure can be so terrifying, the notion that our self-worth derives from something other than our production and accomplishment can be so frightening that many of us push ourselves compulsively beyond what is necessary and beyond what others expect.
It seems to me that Lent is and must be a split experience. We hear constant calls to repent, we do additional acts of service, we increase our commitment to prayer, we spend and give our time and our funds with greater intention, and we make space for God through acts of fasting and self-denial. Each of these amounts, in some way, to an act of doing, and we tell ourselves that these things must be done. We take action, and perhaps our Lenten discipline is best summarized in the famous verse from St. Paul that we hear at vespers. “Many runners compete in the race, but only one wins the prize. Run so as to win” (1 Cor 9:24). Again, we put too much pressure on ourselves.
But there is another race to Lent: the Father racing out to meet his prodigal son. I find myself gently rejoicing in the confessional when penitents who have taken on difficult Lenten disciplines mourn their failures to keep them, because we see together that in our weakness God’s power is made perfect. Let us not focus so much on our race that we fail to see God running toward us. God is faster than we are and far more determined. Lent finds completion when the labor isn’t all on us, but when we pause for a moment and let God run.
Reflection Question: Are you putting so much pressure on completing your Lenten practices that you lose sight of the reason behind these practices?
Featured image: adaptation of photo by Pixabay user Unsplash – labeled for reuse