Several weeks ago when I (Marta) realized that Lent was just a few days away, I noticed that I experienced a sinking feeling—the kind of feeling that made my shoulders slump and my head drop a little.
As I reflected on my reaction I realized that Lent felt like a burden, one more thing to add to my already full life. I felt weary and I didn’t want another thing to manage.
Lent is often described as a season of repentance and reflection. Growing up, I was taught that repentance meant “to turn away from,” and more specifically, “to turn away from sin.”
Like many people who grew up in the church, I tend to experience guilt and shame easily. Because I already struggle with feeling “not good enough,” the thought of entering into a season focused on “turning away from my sin” felt oppressive. I know God is not oppressive, so it got me wondering if there was something missing or off about my understanding of repentance. It turns out that there was.
The Hebrew word for repentance is “t’shuvah,” which means “to turn” or “to return.” It can mean to turn away from sin, but it can also mean to turn toward God or to return to God.
When we focus solely on turning away from sin, we get caught up in the willpower game and we get stuck. A better approach is to ask God to help us identify the things that we turn to for security instead of turning to God.
Through this kind of prayerful reflection, God has helped me see that when I’m under stress I tend to put my nose to the grindstone and work harder. My tendency is to turn to over-work, and my own abilities, rather than turning to God for help. Much of my life I’ve also turned to sugary foods to comfort me in times of stress and sadness, rather than turning to God for consolation.
With this fuller understanding of the meaning of repentance, Lent feels different now. I’m experiencing Lent as a gift—an annual reminder and invitation to return to my Beloved and to my identity as God’s beloved. This, of course, is not just a once-a-year invitation. It is perhaps the most central and ongoing invitation of our lives.
Has God helped you identify the things you turn to for comfort or security? What practices and life rhythms might help you return to God throughout the week or day?