I was thinking recently about the experience a couple years ago when a team of us from Marble visited the mission outreach sites this church supports in South Africa. One day Page and I sat at a sidewalk café in Capetown and chatted with the proprietor. She talked with us about her country, the strides it has made since the days of apartheid, and the strides that still need to be made. During our conversation, she said: “After three hundred years of oppression, we cannot correct it all in twenty years. But, we are on a journey. Maybe it will take another eighty years or more. But we at least know what we must do to change our history into a new and different future.”
I think often of that conversation. Life is, in fact, a journey. And often there are no fast lanes or shortcuts to our desired destinations. But if we pay close attention to the lessons (including pains, failures and guilt) of our yesterdays, we do have the option to change our history into a new and different kind of future.
That’s what Lent is about, you know. It’s about looking back in order to wisely move forward. It begins on Ash Wednesday, re-enacting the ancient Hebrew custom of sitting “in sackcloth and ashes” remembering and repenting of our sins. There was no, “Oh, well, what the heck! I’ll do better next time!” Instead, the custom (for those Hebrews and for Ash Wednesday Christians) is to linger with the pain of our yesterdays and the memory of wrongs that perhaps cannot be made right. Only then do we learn the lessons our yesterdays have to teach, without which we cannot construct the right kind of tomorrows.
There’s a biblical story about a person who was brought to Jesus. That person had failed morally, and was embarrassed, broken, and afraid. Jesus responded by saying: “Neither then do I condemn you. Go your way, and do not sin like this again.” (John 8: 11) Two things are clear in reading His response. First, Jesus did not grant moral license. Sin was sin and, therefore, was not condoned. “Do not sin like this again.” But, neither did Jesus issue rejection or judgment. “Neither then do I condemn you.” He challenged the person to do some serious self-reflection and assessment, to learn the lessons guilt can teach, then to discard it and move forward educated and equipped to build a new future.
Lent is about taking a look at where we’ve been in order to determine where we need to be and how we ought to get there. The journey is difficult and often long, but the destination is the Easter reality of sunlight breaking through the clouds, stones being rolled away, and real life being discovered. Make that your Lenten discipline – to look back in order to be equipped and inspired to move forward.