January 22, 2021

Another Look: Lent is not about getting better

Sad Daffodil 2017

Note from CM: As I prepare for the days of Lent, I found this meditation from 2015 helpful.

• • •

Lent is not about getting better.
Lent is about preparing to die.

The word “lent” means “spring.”
But Lent is not the spring. Lent leads to spring, as death leads to new life.
Lent is the muddy, mucky fecund field awaiting the deposition of the seeds.

Lent’s destination is a cross and Holy Saturday.
Darkness, a forsaken hill, a sealed tomb.
The death of God, hope’s demise.

From strength to weakness, from weakness to humiliation, from humiliation to death, from death to burial.

The lenten season is traditionally the time when catechumens are prepared for baptism.
Forty days of getting ready to drown.

Lent is the death bed vigil.
As we say in hospice, it involves coming to terms with our terminality.
I have sat with patients and their families during those vigils, some of them interminably long.
It is the hardest thing to answer when someone says, why must they linger so?
Why indeed, for forty days, must we watch ourselves dying ’til we’re dead?

I have seen and participated in approaches to Lent that differ from this.
Dubbed “adventures,” “training,” “journeys,” “discipline” or “formation,” the focus was on getting better, stronger, more mature, more capable. Casting off death so as to become more alive. Stripping off the sin that so easily besets us and running a good race to the finish.

I don’t know.

Forty years in the wilderness didn’t make Israel stronger. It was just long enough for the old generation to drop so that God could make way for a new one.

And I’ve changed how I visualize Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness too. Somehow I used to have this idea of Jesus standing strong at the end of forty days, triumphantly rebuking the devil so that he had to flee the Savior’s power. Frankly, that’s probably hogwash. After forty days of fasting, it was more likely a gaunt, weakened and sickly Savior who could barely whisper his replies. Mark tells us that the wild beasts were circling and that “the angels ministered to him.”Now I picture a haggard, dusty body laying face down in the sand, the hyenas and buzzards eagerly watching for that final breath. It took supernatural beings to come and lift his chin and drip water through his parched and chapped lips along with a tiny bite of food. Jesus in extremis, guarded from jackals, nursed back to health one sip, one crumb at a time.

That’s what forty days of dying looks like.

I don’t want to die. I doubt you do either.
Which is why Lent is hard for us after all.
We can talk all we want about what’s coming on the other side, but it’s the death bed we’re all trying to avoid.
We want the fruit without the mud and the muck.
Death we can live with. It’s the dying part that’s hard.

But that is Lent.
It’s not about getting better.
It’s about dying until we’re dead.


  1. senecagriggs says

    Ec 7:2

    It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

  2. Dying to my self involves turning to others, as well as turning to God. More and more I see this as the model that Jesus provided for us in the Gospels, as well as the core of his teaching. I know that this is one of the most elementary truths of Christianity, but it has taken me most of a lifetime to start learning it, and will no doubt take me more than a lifetime to start consistently practicing it.

    • –>”I know that this is one of the most elementary truths of Christianity, but it has taken me most of a lifetime to start learning it, and will no doubt take me more than a lifetime to start consistently practicing it.”

      I’m with ya, Robert. And perfection won’t come until we’re no longer bound to the flesh.

  3. He set His face to go to Jerusalem…Luke 9:51

    • “…who for the joy set before Him…” (part of Hebrews 12:2)

      • And that joy is the love of His brethren that He ever experiences now. There’s never a bad time to tell Him we love Him and of course to show that love to ‘the least of these’ which is sometimes the truest expression of that love. My wife and I have taken to doing things for others at lent more than skipping chocolates or beer. It’s ever-changing but that has been our lenten experience the last couple of years. Expressing his love when we might not normally think of doing it.

  4. “The Christian life is a life of crucifixion.”
    (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

  5. Thank you for this. Life is small and constrained right now. Some rough mornings you consider your escape options to the tune of “Screw the cross; I want to live!”.

  6. David Cornwell says


    We fight it until the last breath most times. Yet say when they’ve gone “they are in a better place.” Maybe they are, but for me they aren’t, at least for the ones I miss the most. Like my mom. She was a gentle, loving person, intelligent, and taught me how to endure and endure. Not that I learned it all, but this is what she taught me by her life. Some days I’d love to have her ear to hear.

    Or like my dad. I miss the fun he always instigated. His talk, his opinions, even his bad ones. His walks with me when I was a child and when I was a man. He taught me to love walking. Where are you when I’m out in those woods?

    My brother Tom. Tommy when he was a kid. I was nine years older than him, my youngest brother. I saw him when he came home from the hospital, and we became best friends over the years. I teased him when he was little. He went to Vietnam after college as an officer in Army intelligence (oxymoron according to him later). He became our family liberal. We talked politics and history and presidents and Jesus. He became a strong follower of Jesus and a strong critic of the social order. I wish he were around now. But he died not long before the Sept 11 attacks. More than any person in the world, I grieve his loss every single day of my life.

    So for me, no, he isn’t in a better place. His place is here with me.

    A little bit ago I heard Vic Chesnutt singing “Flirted with You All My Life.” He does an awfully good job expressing some of the ambivalent feelings…

    I am a man. I am self aware.
    Everywhere I go, you’re always right there with me.

    I flirted with you all my life
    Even kissed you once or twice
    To this day I swear it was nice.
    But clearly, I was not ready.

    When you touched a friend of mine, I thought I would loose my mind.
    But I found out with time,
    That really, i was not ready.
    No, No

    Oh death, oh death, oh death.
    Really, I’m not ready.

    Of death you hinder me.
    Death makes those dear to me.
    Tease me with your sweet relief.
    You’re cool, and you are constant.

    When my mom was cancer sick,
    She fought but then succumb to it.
    But you made her beg for it,
    Lord Jesus, please, I’m ready.

    Oh death, oh death, oh death.
    Really I’m not ready.
    No no.
    Oh death, oh death, oh death.
    Clearly I’m not ready.

Speak Your Mind