Lent is for Lovers
Falling in love is different than living in love. Over 25 years ago Melissa and I were on a weekend retreat with other couples preparing for marriage. Most of the retreat sessions were about what we expected for marriage preparation. But near the end of that weekend we received some of the best, long-lived advice from a retired, wild-eyed, charismatic priest. He leapt around the room more like a prophet than a priest.
Pantomiming the actions he was describing, he told us all to go home, and on the mirror in each of our bathrooms, pick up a bar of soap and write on it tin large letters, “Love is not a feeling.” He never went on to say what love was but over our 25 years of living in love together, Melissa and I have begun to discover what that crazy prophet-priest was referring to.
February is rife with advertisements for feelings of love. Cards, chocolates, and that “perfect gift,” are all marketed to assist us in fostering the feelings of falling in love. New lovers and hopeful lovers will feel the effervescence of romantic expectation this Valentine’s Day. And this can be a good thing, for the short term. Contrary to main street marketing, though, love is not a feeling.
Long-lived lovers know that it’s not the spark of the candles lit for dinner on February 14 that makes a rich
relationship. True loving is often revealed in the daily sacrifices made between lovers. Learning to be loving and engage in loving actions beyond the fuzzy Valentine feelings reveals a deeper joy.
Living in love with another includes the simple, sacramental acts that often look more mundane: checking in on a daily basis, doing the dishes, changing the toilet paper roll, listening to a long story after a long day, scheduling a date night, sitting together during an argument when you feel like bolting, routinely doing a task that needs doing for your common life together without ever being asked.
As Christians we are called to live in love beyond our initial feelings. Beyond the initial falling in love with God, Jesus calls us to continue and abide in an ongoing, loving relationship with God, the one who is love. In John 15:9 Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.”
We may have felt God’s love when we started a robust life of faith. Maybe it was coming to Jesus at a youth camp event, maybe it was when we joined a new church, got baptized, or started with a new Bible study group. But those feelings of new love don’t last on their own, not even in the life of faith, not if we’re going to be real about it. Marriage doesn’t work like that and neither does life in the community of faith.
Lent begins on Valentine’s Day this year. Just as we would expect great feelings of romantic love on February 14, there will be great feelings of piety on Ash Wednesday. It’s a great place to start but what routine sacrifices will you engage in to deepen that love relationship with God over the following six weeks to Easter? This is what we really mean when talk about “giving things up for Lent.”
In what way will we put God first, even and especially in seemingly mundane and routine, daily practices? What might we each do if we were married to God? Talk every day, as in prayer and meditation? Stop and listen to a long story God might want you to hear, perhaps from the Bible or from a hurting neighbor? What common,
routine things might you do differently if you were doing them for Jesus Christ? That’s the intention with which Lent is to be lived as if we were married to God. Yes, fall in love with God this Ash Wednesday but live in love with God over the weeks of Lent. Live in God’s love even when you don’t feel like it.