Ash Wednesday calls us to renewal in our efforts to open ourselves to God – the source of all love, which in turn increases our capacity and ability to love others around us. Valentine’s Day calls us to renewal in our efforts to love those whom we are called to love in a particularly intimate way. Both occasions call us to the destination of love, and to open ourselves to newness and fresh growth in that journey toward greater love.
What do I mean by love? Our greatest example of love is Jesus, who shows us what it means to love fully and completely. Thomas Aquinas gave us a good description of this kind of love when he said it is ‘willing the good of the other, for the sake of the other.’ It means that I desire your highest good – not so that I may benefit from it in some way, but for your own sake. It is love that is totally selfless, other-centred and calls me out of myself. It’s not a self-indulgent kind of ‘love’, which is focused on me and what I can get out of the relationship. It’s a love that moves me to sacrifice my own interests or preferences, that the other person might experience good.
Such love is beyond merely human capacities and abilities. My natural ‘love’ is often motivated by self-interest and a desire for some kind of outcome for myself, as a result of my giving. The kind of love that Jesus calls me to give the other, can only come about through ongoing conversion and renewal of my heart. This is the joyous call of both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the season of Lent, which means ‘the season of spring’.
How can I experience this ongoing conversion of heart? It is through opening my heart to the gift of experiencing God’s love, which transforms my heart. How do I do that? It starts with looking for God’s initiative in my life. Where is he at work, calling me to deepen my love for Him and for others? God’s love is always seeking to give me what my heart needs, to experience growth, freedom, healing and to flourish. He is always at work to free me from the obstacles that stand in the way of me experiencing His goodness.
That’s why James can say, ‘All good giving and every perfect gift is from above.’ (James 1:17)
Spend some time today inviting the Lord to open your eyes to where he is at work in your life; and to a gift, he longs to give you.
What are you giving up for Lent? Is a familiar question that many ask and answer on the day before Ash Wednesday. But God’s goodness and generosity mean that Lent is a time of receiving, not just giving up. Giving up only makes sense in the context of receiving God’s gifts of love. We do it to open up space and time to better love God and our neighbour in the areas that God is at work in my life; rather than as a self-improvement program. And it might surprise you how God gives you his gifts, as you open yourself up to him in these ways. So, let’s ask a different question: Father, what gift do you want to give me, this Lent? And where are you calling me to grow in love in my intimate relationships?
Perhaps you decide to spend more time in intercessory prayer. Maybe you set aside fifteen minutes a day – or an hour a week – to pray for all those people, whose needs have come to your attention. Yes, you are “giving up” your time, but as you do, you might receive the gift of hope in difficult circumstances. Or you might start seeing situations with God’s wisdom. Or you might feel the Holy Spirit leading you to pray with someone specific, or even see God give the good gift of healing.
Perhaps you decide to try to reach out to at least one person each week and offer some practical help: a meal, a ride, or a time to babysit. You might receive the gift of a greater awareness of the needs around you. Or you might find yourself feeling more compassionate toward people. You might also receive a deeper understanding of the other person’s burden or concern, even if you can’t do anything to alleviate it.
Perhaps you pray each morning and ask God to make you aware of his greatest concern for someone close to you – along with a concrete way to address it. As you act on these insights, you might see your priorities shifting. You might also see that ordering your day according to God’s thoughts has brought you the gift of peace.
Consider spending some time today with the prayer: “Father, what good gift are you preparing for me this Lent?” Then ask him how your Lenten practices can help prepare you to receive it.
Inspired by: ‘Word Among Us’ – India edition
Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay