Lent invites us to rend our heart and return to the Lord. What if our hearts feel like they are already ripped open? Some encouragement for when you are grieving in Lent.
At the beginning of Lent, I want to share a few thoughts for all of us who are entering into this penitential season already carrying an extraordinary cross. It may feel as if any more suffering or penance will crush us. It may feel impossible to consider adding one more ounce of suffering.
We see you, dear one. May you find encouragement to come as you are, to enter into the desert with Jesus to receive the heart of the Father. We are here. You are not alone.
On Ash Wednesday, we were invited by the prophet Joel to return to the Lord with our whole hearts.
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing.
When you see that phrase, your whole heart, do you bristle? Do you think, “My whole heart? I haven’t had a whole heart for weeks, months … years. My heart is broken. Shattered. Crushed. I don’t even know how to bring it to you. I can’t even find all the pieces.”
I think the Lord was speaking to us, to those who know grief, because He follows up that request with how we should return to him: fasting, weeping, and mourning.
All the times we can’t eat because of our grief. Fasting.
The vats of tears we have cried. An endless supply of weeping.
The pain that never leaves as we miss our child. Mourning.
We are exhorted to rend our hearts. Rend, from the old English, meaning: to remove by violence, to split into pieces, to tear as a sign of grief or despair.
Oh, we know what it is to rend. To be rent.
Our hearts are already split into pieces, full of grief and despair. The Lord already knows this and persists with His invitation, wooing us to Him.
Return to me with your whole heart. The whole of your messy, broken, wounded, shattered heart. This is exactly what I want. Don’t hide from me anymore. I am gracious. I am merciful. I am kind. And I want to give you a blessing.
The Lord never stops desiring our healing and restoration, even when we can’t see it, even when we can’t hear Him or feel Him. Claim the promise of His goodness, His kindness, and His mercy. You can trust him with your heart, exactly as it is.
Lent invites us into the desert with Jesus. The Church invites us to suffer with the Lord for 40 days. As grieving mothers and fathers, we know the desert. We know what it is to live in a wasteland. We know what it is to come away from everything we thought we knew about ourselves and our lives and be forced into a desolate existence of suffering.
I think the Lord knows this. He knows exactly where we are and where we have been. He knows the place you find yourself today, in your grief and mourning. The unique desert of your heart.
Perhaps the great consolation of Lent is that Jesus is not afraid of the desert. He goes freely into the wasteland with conviction and purpose. He is preparing his own heart, but you can also be sure he is coming for you. For your rescue. For your comfort. He finds you there, slumped in the sand, tired and broken, and sits by you. He wraps his arms around your shoulders and lets you lean into him. He whispers your name in your mourning. He breathes into your broken heart. Know that you are in the desert together.
In Lent, the Church invites us to take on additional penitential practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In grief, especially the early years of grief, the thought of having to do one more thing may seem impossible. We are barely surviving. Can’t my grief be penance enough?
Yes, it can. One of the beautiful gifts of our faith is redemptive suffering. This is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. We can join him at any point, Lent or otherwise, when we offer our suffering and grief to Him and unite it to His Sacred Heart. Our suffering can be powerful when given to Jesus. It isn’t hard – just a mindful intention or a whispered prayer:
Jesus, I give you all my grief for the conversion of my family.
Jesus, I unite my tears to your suffering on the cross for the souls in purgatory.
Jesus, I cannot breathe but I give you all my sorrow for those who are suffering without you.
Our mourning is powerful. Ask our mournful mother Mary to help you if you are struggling. She knows what it is to grieve, mourn, and suffer and is always ready with her maternal heart and to help you carry your grief to Jesus.
Finally, remember that Lent is not actually about what you DO, but the disposition of your heart. We are abundantly loved by the God of the universe. He is deeply invested in your healing and invites us in this penitential season to take a closer look at our sins and take steps to purify our hearts and grow in holiness, but it cannot be a journey of self-reliance.
1 Peter 2:5 says, “Let yourself be built into a spiritual house.” (New American translation)
LET yourself. It is the passive voice. YOU don’t have to do anything other than show up and let the Lord love you. Let Him take care of you. Let Him restore and comfort and redeem your holy, broken heart. Surrender yourself to Him, the lover of your soul, the lover of your child, and the only one who can bring us the peace that surpasses understanding, even in grief.
Oh, broken-hearted mother, broken-hearted father, we see you and are with you in this Lent. May we find Jesus in the wasteland of our grief, return to Him with our whole heart, and let Him love us into wholeness, in His time and in His way.
This post also appeared at www.redbird.love/blog