The name Lent comes from a Saxon word that meant “length.” This is the season of daylight hours lengthening. It is also the time when Christians have traditionally joined in spirit and practice in the journeys of Jesus—through his earthy ministry, to the cross, into and out of the grave. We see the length—Lent—of the journey spread out before us every year. Every year we remember anew that Jesus walked this beautiful, broken earth as one of us. He walked the deepest heartache and most violent pain, and he walked the wearying and mundane.
Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation, which means it is a time to think about patience. Patience is not only waiting with good behavior; it is enduring. It is walking each step of the journey no matter how long, dreary, or tiresome it may seem.
I have discovered that we need patience because life just keeps going. There is no final swell of music and cut to the credits. We do not find love or save the world and then everything wraps up, for good or ill. The camera keeps rolling. We learn one lesson and then find we have forgotten and must learn it again, or we have learned only a bit of it and must go further, or there is an entirely different lesson just waiting to smack us alongside the head. Sometimes we must unlearn things we have relied on for years but now discover are poorly founded. So to press on and embrace life as it comes we must be patient.
But patience is not viable in itself; it ultimately requires hope. Hope is the assurance that there is something to wait for, a reason to press on, goodness ahead that is more than an endless repeat of what has been. Hope for the Christian is knowing that because of what Jesus did on Good Friday and Easter—what we journey toward in Lent—our future is life forever with God. One day we will be part of the next resurrection, when our whole selves and all creation will be made new.
Hope looks ahead. Meanwhile, faith is convinced that now already we are part of something much greater than ourselves, that even now God is continuing his good work in this world. So with patience we trust that God’s will is being worked out. And we join our wills to his for the length of the journey.
It is sometimes said of people when they die that they lost the will to live. But for many of us living is not something we think about as an act of will; it is something that just happens. We may work hard to make ends meet, but for many in relative affluence and privilege, staying alive is not our main concern (as it is for countless others in our own country and worldwide). We all may, however, loose the will to get out of bed when our alarm goes off, or concentrate on a task, or keep up with all of life’s responsibilities and demands. We need the will to embrace life every day, to participate fully and appreciate moments as gifts rather than burdens. The good news is that we don’t have to rely on our own faulty wills or transient emotions. God’s grace in the work of Christ gives us not only eternal life but fullness of life day by day.
It may not be glamorous, but this is how it works: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12). In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we find our life. We walk on, however long the road ahead—in radiant joy, in hopeful grief, and in dusty endurance.