Do you observe Lent? Whatever your choice, Ally Ley opens the eyes of our hearts to consider God’s invitation in the practice.
The Invitation to Come Home
By Ally Ley
In the spirit of the Lenten season we’re about to embark on, I have a confession:
I’m genuinely excited about Lent.
I know, it sounds crazy to me, too…especially since I grew up dreading this time of the church year. Over the last decade, though, God has been slowly and gently reframing my experience of Lent.
I’m learning Lent isn’t about unnecessary suffering or some distorted form of punishment.
Lent isn’t about pushing or proving or earning.
Lent is about God’s invitation to come home.
Maybe you know nothing about Lent and have never included it in your spiritual practices.
Maybe Lent for you has been a game of finding loopholes or a quasi-religious reboot of a New Year’s resolution. One year, I gave up sweets for a random week in January so I could break my Lenten fast on a spring break cruise. As if that wasn’t enough, then I had the audacity to tell people I thought it was actually harder than just giving up sweets for six weeks straight. Really?
Or maybe you have always experienced Lent as a time of harsh discipline, something that pushes your perfectionist buttons by stoking the mistaken belief that God’s love and acceptance must be earned by behavior.
Aside from my little Lent sweets swap, I’ve always experienced Lent as a time of harsh discipline. Even though I knew this theology was twisted in my head, in my heart I used to approach Lent like probation: a set period of time to shape up my behavior and prove that, deep down, I really did deserve the privileges of God’s love and grace.
These days, I’m learning to see it more as a parent positively disciplining a young child. I have two wild little kids, so a lot of my life is spent doing exactly this. Besides getting out of Target with minimal collateral damage, my main goals in this phase of discipline are to connect and then redirect. I try to remind my kids that I’m for them and with them by acknowledging their feelings in the moment (connect), and then I re-establish the boundary or behavioral norms for this situation (redirect). Sometimes all three of us end up crying in the car in the parking lot, but often this way of disciplining creates a powerful experience of learning and connection.
I see Lent in a similar way. It’s like God is crouching down and inviting us to look into his eyes saying: “Look at Me, see Me. I’m here with you. I know why you’re doing these behaviors. I know you think this will give you the love, the belonging, the acceptance, the safety, the purpose, etc. that you long for.
The truth is, though, it won’t. It was never meant to. Only I can fill that need. Only I am enough for you. Turn back to Me. Let Me guide you in the way you should go, and together we will live into My way of truth, freedom, and life.
Come home, My precious daughter.”
I invite you to reimagine Lent like this, as a time where God kneels before you (yes, you!) as a kind and loving parent, looking deeply into your eyes, connecting and redirecting. Like the prodigal son, we’ve all run away from our Father’s house trying to make our own way in the world. Our call over the Lenten season is to acknowledge this and return as we let God lead us once again to our true home in the Trinity.
As you journey throughout the next six weeks, give yourself space and time each day to sit with these questions, letting them guide your attention and draw you deeper into conversation with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
How have I wandered, trying to meet my own needs outside of God today?
How am I being invited to return and let God lead me home?
May you experience Lent as a kind and gentle gift as you let God lead you home.
Ally Ley directs the Soul Care Initiative at Denver Seminary and co-leads the Abbey, a ministry dedicated to helping pastors and faith leaders in Colorado deepen and sustain their life with God. A graduate of Denver Seminary and a trained Christian spiritual director, she delights in creating space for individuals and groups to encounter God in transformative ways. Ally specializes in spiritual direction with female Christian leaders and companioning women exploring identity, perfectionism, and integration on the journey of wholeness. She and her husband Mickey live in Parker, Colorado with their two darling, feisty, and utterly exhausting young children.