The forgotten message of Lent

I’m a part of a lot of peer groups.  As a matter of fact, probably too many.  I have a group I meet with weekly on Thursday evenings.  I have another group I meet with every fourth Thursday. I have a life coach, a consultant, a spiritual director and a counselor for a wife.

Most of my friends have gone through multiple units of CPE.  My father and grandfather are successful pastors; my wife’s uncle and grandfather are too.   My full time job is at a seminary that trains ministers for a living.  I eat lunch with world renowned and newly budding theologians and rub elbows with missionaries and congregational leaders.  I spend my free time traveling to hear these women and men speak while reading their books.  As a matter of fact, I met and heard Barbara Brown Taylor last week.

There are lots of people who speak in to my life.  And I want this.  I surround myself with people who are life-giving and like-minded.  We all do.  We seek out situations that build us up, allow us to reach out, carry on, do more, feel better, risk greater, and love deeper – at least in the core of our true selves we want this.

We want to belong, to feel whole and to know that we are special and held.

And I fully recognize that I’m fortunate to be where I am.  I sit in intentional, liminal spaces with fellow pilgrims for a living.  I get paid to think and write about God.  And I love it.  I love pastoring and I love being a part of a something much bigger than myself.

Yet for most of my time on earth . . . l live with an overwhelming emptiness.  Emptiness in that, despite the people in my life, I still fall short, mess up, sin and forget.

And when I get to this point, I feel like I need to repent; but I don’t for fear of what all these good people in my life might think.  For fear of what others (that I respect) will think, I fail to admit that I am just as broken and in need as the next person.

I think we all do from time to time.  And it cripples our faith and our witness.  It makes us look foolish, uncaring, and shallow.  No matter how many people speak into our lives, if we forget we need the spirit of the living God breathing peace and forgiveness, what good are we?

If only there were a season in the Christian calendar that provided space for us to do this – oh wait, that’s Lent.

The forgotten message of Lent is we’re required to do more than just believe in Christ and surround ourselves with people who are like-minded; we must also follow.  There’s a huge difference between being a believer and choosing to be a follower.  Followers confess their sins, seek forgiveness, and move with the Spirit.

As much as I surround myself with incredible Christian witnesses, I too fail to follow at times.  We all do.  And we need to confess and turn from this.

Confession allows us to let go of the false sense and most protected parts of our fake selves.  It may be painful, but confession frees us to turn from the lies we once held as truth (about ourselves, our relationship with God, etc.).  It frees our spirit to follow Christ.   When we confess, we become less trapped, feel less empty, and carry a lighter load of regret.

I pray that this Lenten season we find the space and freedom to repent of the life that keeps others from seeing Christ.  May we do the tough work of shedding the false sense of ourselves.  May others see us as followers and not just believers.

The forgotten message of Lent is we don’t repent enough.  I guess that’s because we aren’t serious enough about Christianity.  And Jesus laments this.  I think we should too.

Barrett Owen

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About the Author
Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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  • blarue002

    As a minister and a “follower” and definitely not “just” a believer of Christ, I hear and respect your honesty. I also know that your commentary rings out as a testimony of those “always seeking, meeting, fellowshiping but never finding fulfillment” in their relationship and experience in Christ.  Of course we know it’s an all to common occurance with those in your career path and peer circle as well. That being said, in contrast, there are many who have a completely fulfilling relationship and experience in Christ. In all sincerity, if you activitly love Him, you will spend more time with Him you will experience that fulfillment.  It’s really that simple…yes, really..:)

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