On Lenten Relenting
I am loved for what I do. It’s a lie I’d believed for a very long time. My head knew it wasn’t true, of course, but my heart had somehow latched onto it, nurtured it, even taken a strange comfort in it. But then, I was sick with a cold, and God used that time in the most marvelously unexpected way, loving Father that He is.
After several months in a new convent, I’d happily adjusted to a new routine and become familiar with my new responsibilities. But just as I found myself feeling comfortable and secure, I woke up one morning with a sore throat—no small thing these days. Hours later, negative COVID test in hand, yet still feeling quite “under the weather,” I settled in to just be. As the days of that week slipped slowly, peacefully, idly by, a new warmth of love welled up in my heart, new rays of light piercing the dark of its long-hidden corners. All of a sudden, I found myself poor and weak, unproductive and quite useless, seemingly unable to contribute anything of value to our beautiful communal life. Yet still, throughout those timeless days, my sisters cooked for me, cleared my place, washed my dishes, did my chores…in short, they loved me. They loved me not because I would have done the same for them, or because I’d earned their love by usually “pulling my weight,” or because I assured them I’d pay them back. They loved me not for what I do, but rather for who I am.
It was in the smiling faces of my sisters taking up new tasks to serve me that I saw anew the face of God. In that week of long naps and early nights, a foggy mind and a growing heart, God drew me away to be with Him, to learn from Him. He invited me to find in Him a hiding place. I did nothing but rest, wait, listen. I let myself be held in the tender, loving arms of my Father. Not only was I unproductive in a material sense, I was suddenly freed from the temptation to be “productive” in a spiritual sense. I couldn’t manage to join in on all our times of prayer, I fought (and regularly succumbed to) the urge to nod off during Holy Hour, I struggled to focus as I stifled coughs and sneezes in our quiet chapel.
In it all, God loved me. He loved me not because I am usually fully present and alert and focused in prayer (would that that were true!), or because I’d somehow amassed merit through my suddenly interrupted routine, or because I assured Him I’d make it up to Him. God loved me, and loves me, not for what I do, but rather for who I am, a needy, dependent, wholly precious and lovable daughter of His.
This brings me to Lent. Year after year, I’ve approached this season with a heart full of resolve to do, to accomplish, to prove myself and earn a pat on the back by the end of 40 days. Try as I might to reform my stubborn ways, I’ve long clung to this familiar, comfortable habit of self-righteous productivity. But my blessed cold, I believe, has cured me of it. Instead, God has invited me to relent. He has drawn me into a new understanding of His love, one of gentleness and tenderness, and a new disposition of heart, one of softness and openness. He has firmly and lovingly pointed out my utter inability to earn His love, for it is wholly unmerited, unconditional, and freely given. He has drawn me into the wilderness to simply be with Him, to rest in Him, to receive from Him.
As this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving continues on, I pray that you, too, would find great solace in the arms of the Father, would learn new depths of His tender and abundant love for you, would draw strength from simply being in His Presence. May we all relent from our temptation to earn love, welcoming God to use whatever means He likes to enlighten our hearts—even a simple cold.
Sr. Clara, CFR Novice