Eighteen months ago I began running. I have managed to establish a routine and have gradually built up. I am still running embarrassingly short distances embarrassingly slowly, but I am running. Both last year and this, I have noticed a similarity between running and Lent.
One lesson learnt early on is that every run is different. A second is that running is hard and that it is hard quite a lot of the time. There is also a mental battle going on. The brain sends messages that this is all too difficult and that I should just stop, even when I am physically capable of running further. I find this battle happens at different stages on different runs. Often the warm up is mentally very hard. Early on I find myself wanting to give up. I have hardly started, yet the run, stretching out in front seems overwhelming. Sometimes the end of a run holds the temptation of giving up and walking the last bit home. Here the temptation is “I’ve already run loads! The last bit won’t make any difference.” Sometimes, somewhere in the middle it feels comfortable and even good, on some occasions. In all this, running changes me, both physically and mentally, in ways I never imagined at the beginning.
And so the overlap with Lent. Each year is different. God has a different gift each time. We begin each Lent having changed during the months in between and new things are waiting for us. Lent is hard. We are in the desert, with Christ. It is a dry place, full of temptations. We are heading to Jerusalem and Christ’s Passion. Sometimes the temptation is to give in, to avoid the difficulties we may find. Some years those difficulties may come at the beginning, sometimes nearer the end. There can also be comfort and joy here too. As we accompany Christ, we get to know him better. Sometimes we get a glimpse of who Christ is, see his divine nature in the heat of the sun or as he turns his face towards the Cross. Lent has the capacity to change me at the level of me deepest desire and for me to experience the sustaining nature of divine love in the midst of difficulties. Just like my running I have to allow myself to be in Lent, to keep going, however feebly and when I do I find amazing things.