Lent is a season for self-examination. It is not mainly about feeling guilty. It is more like a chance to check the GPS (that might be “God Positioning System” if you like acronyms) and figure out exactly where you have come and where you still have to go. We often describe this life as a spiritual journey, with the goal of returning to God.
“But,” you say, “If I look at where I am on that journey I’m going to find I fall short. Then I’m going to feel guilty. So Lent really is all about guilt.”
Not so fast, my friend.
Guilt is the feeling when the main issue at hand is behavior that breaks God’s law. Where broken laws are the focus, guilt and punishment are soon to follow.
It is true enough that God made laws: like the Ten Commandments. And it is true enough that Christians have often practiced self-examination by comparing their behavior to those laws.
But that is not the only way to approach self-examination.
Try to imagine a Christian life where broken laws and guilt just aren’t the issue.
Try this on: What if the main issue was whether our choices made our lives more attuned to the purposes of the God who loves us so much that he gave us Jesus himself to bring us back home. Then the issue is more about finding the right direction to go in the journey.
- Make good choices, and life goes the right way.
- Make not so good choices and our lives have not so good consequences.
Lent is the season of the Church year when we are encouraged to do things that help us reorient ourselves for this journey.
I’m getting a late start, but his year in Lent I’m going to be thinking through the kinds of choices that will help me make progress in the journey. I have some good company in the conversation: Evagrius Ponticus (d. 399), one of the most influential of the Desert Fathers.
One of the themes of Evagrius’ writings is problematic “thoughts.” From time to time he would make lists of the kinds of mental habits that shape our life, our character, our faith and faithfulness. Sometimes he came up with eight, and sometimes with nine. Sometimes he paired each problematic thought with an opposing remedy, a good thought that fixes the problem or leads us to a better place.
Evagrius’ lists are the early versions of what later generations called the “Seven Deadly Sins,” but Evagrius brings his own twist to the subject. I find it especially helpful that he doesn’t turn them into a list of behaviors. He sticks to his insight of looking very carefully at the thoughts that shape us, and prompt problematic behaviors.
I’ve been spending time reading what he said and I’m finding him really insightful—genuinely helpful to thinking about my life. I hope you will too. I’m aiming to blog through one of his lists. You can let me know in the comments or by email.
If you like exploring Christian faithfulness today in great company from the Christian past, grab your copy of my free eBook exploring classic lectio divina with 12th century monk Guigo II. Click here to get it!