Lent: A Time of Freedom—A Reflection
By Else Tennessen
“Come to me, all you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
This is my third Lent, and with each passing year I have learned and experienced different things.
During my first Lent, I was a newborn Orthodox. Lent was new and special, and my struggle that year was just to learn what was required and to do it to the best of my ability.
During my second Lent, I learned a little more, and concentrated on “doing it for the Lord.” I tried to keep my focus more on God.
This year, it has hit me more intensely how Lent can be a time of freedom. It’s actually a relief to have a reason to push oneself to let go of passions—eating, materialism, worldliness, negative emotions, and other things that get in the way of my relationship with God. That’s not to say it’s easy; it isn’t, and the enemy lies in wait at the door.
But Lent clarifies my thinking: I can see the things God wants me to get rid of, like cleaning out a messy closet of all the clothes that no longer fit and all the junk I have accumulated. It is easy to agree with Him, Yes, Lord, this should go.
At the same time, I recognize how desperately I need God to do these things for me. I can’t do them for myself, I am incapable of it. I am a pack rat. I like my messy, stuffed closet. After all, I can just shut the door and ignore the stuff inside. But God wants me to be free. He wants me to open that closet and let in the air of His Spirit. He wants me to get rid of the things I am a slave to and all the sin that burdens me. He is tired of me being heavy-laden.
I cannot even repent by myself. I need God to do this in me, as well. I need His help to feel remorse, sadness, the desire to change, and to enact the change. “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me” simply because He is the One doing them. In his Canon, St Andrew wrote, “I have no tears, no repentance, no compunction; but as God do Thou Thyself, O Savior, bestow them on me.”
The Canon of St Andrew has been a great centering device for me this Lent. I am following along with the Canon for forty days, aided by the book “First Fruits of Prayer” by Frederica Mathewes-Green, who has divided the Canon into forty readings with commentaries. Andrew understands that I need God all the time; that I need to be asking Him all the time to set me free. It is good to agree with Andrew that I am a sinner and have no personal power (despite what the enemy would have me think).
I like the way that St Andrew scolds his soul and calls it back to God. I often feel that it’s my “other self” that’s up to mischief. But no, Andrew assures me, it’s you, yourself. His words are an encouragement to run back to the Father, as quickly as I can, lest I be lost in the wilderness.
Finally, this Lent has made me realize that I need to “keep Lent” all year. It’s not just for forty days that I am to watch myself. I need to be vigilant at all times, encouraging my soul to constantly pursue God. To paraphrase Dickens, “I will honor Lent in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Please pray for me, a sinner.