With very little exception, these athletes have been training for decades for this moment. They might only get one shot at their event, but they have prepared for that moment. A great athlete is not made in the one performance, but in the countless hours over the many years of practice. How many leaps have skaters practiced? How many hills have skiers zoomed down? How many stones have curlers thrown? And of course, how often have they learned their lessons with their very body? Falls, bruises, concussions, all are part of it. But some of their greatest lessons happen when they fail. The great ones turn those failures into a vehicle for later victory.
I would argue that for Christians, as for world-class athletes, there is not much difference. The early church theologian Tertullian was quoted as saying, “Christians are made, not born.” While we rely on the Father’s activity in Christ through the power of the Spirit to mark and identify us as children of God in the waters of baptism, our lives of faith are not complete then and there. We require training and discipline. Thankfully God has given us many ways to be schooled in Christian virtue that we may be formed into Christ’s image to lead lives of holiness and righteousness. In Mark 13:11, Jesus tells his followers, “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” While we might be worried that our whole witness to God might come down to one spontaneous moment. We need not fear. The Holy Spirit can be working ahead of time to prepare us for that moment. Our lives can be lives that prepare for those moments when the Holy Spirit calls upon us.
In Lent we are given an opportunity for intense discipline, not primarily meant to punish or deprive, but to prepare. Christ’s time in the wilderness fasting was not a weakening but a means of strength and preparation. We too can enter into the ways that God gives us— repentance, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, works of mercy—that we may be formed into the people that we are called to be. And much of our time in Lent is spent contemplating the deep brokenness we make known in our lives, the ways we do not measure up to the people we are called to be, the ways we have chosen less than what God chose for us, the ways we have turned inward to focus on ourselves for our own benefit. In Lent we may turn toward God, away from our self, and enter into this discipline and preparation. The words of exhortation spoken by Christ we hear anew as words of grace and transformation.
Lent is a gift. A gift to see ourselves as God sees us, fallen creatures who might be redeemed to be a people who bring forth his glory. We can begin to grasp the transformation that is beginning to mold us. It begins with God’s words of grace to us, and continues in the repentance and prayer, in the discipline of this season.