Walking into Lent, Ready to Weep
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
—Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)
A reflection by Susan Smetzer-Anderson
I think about Lent as a season for reflection—not for brooding, but for listening and looking—assenting to the inward gaze and what it might reveal, assenting to spiritual insight and God’s revelation to rest and walk in good paths. But so often I resist the call to “hit pause,” listen, and seek insight. I resist Lent—to the detriment of my own spiritual well-being and the good of those I love. History shows me my resistance is potentially perilous.
Jeremiah, the author of the above verse, was known as the weeping prophet. His ministry (around 600 BC) was to tell rebellious people the truth, to warn his nation that blatant disobedience and disregard for God had real consequences—ultimately, the destruction of the temple. The reason for Jeremiah’s weeping is captured in the plaintive last line; people literally refused God’s good way, his ancient paths, his promised rest for their souls. “We will not walk in it...”
Because they would not walk in God’s ways, they were force-marched into the Babylonian exile. And 70 years later, the prophet Daniel (Daniel chapter 9) bore witness to the tragic consequences of his people’s rebellion, and he poured out his heart to God in prayer and confession on behalf of his nation.
In the first year of [the reign of Darius, ruler of the Babylonian kingdom], I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
Daniel then enumerates all the ways the people disdained and disobeyed God and pleads:
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.
Jeremiah and Daniel. These prophetic men loved God, meditated on Scripture, listened, and acted. Soft hearted toward God, they were burdened for others’ spiritual wellbeing. They grasped the cascading consequences of resistance. They lamented their nation, the blindness and generational impacts of sin. Ultimately, Jesus enters the story to break the cycle and bear the burden of it all. But the narrative isn’t complete: We are still here, people of God, learning to walk. Just as human resistance seeded the tears of Jeremiah and Daniel, willful resistance seeded Jesus’ procession on the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering. Today, we still daily have to choose, and Lent’s 40 reflective days amplifies the power of our choices. Where are we at? Do we willingly attend to God’s invitation to walk in God’s shalom? Or do we find ourselves resisting, sometimes in spite of ourselves?
Sacrificing time to make space for reflection, Lent opens up the possibility of prophetic work in our lives. It can also help us make space for prayer and intercession.
This perspective is far removed from the Lent of my growing up years, when my “sacrifice” of Hershey’s kisses was somehow construed as spiritually meaningful. Thankfully I now have a more historically rich perspective: I realize that Lent is part of my spiritual inheritance. We are all descendants of prophets and servants and apostles. We’re part of a spiritual narrative designed by a divine Author, whose plot shines bright on acts of hospitality, obedience, mercy, and sacrificial love.
The raw, honest Old Testament prophets, mostly outsiders, are among our forebears. Those prophets with their pleas and prayers, and Jesus’ pure suffering on behalf of stubborn people, show Lent in action: The fearless embrace of truth. The admission of spiritual, communal desolation. Confession of corporate sin. Acknowledgment of God’s holy sovereignty. God’s merciful, loving invitation extended time and again. He keeps inviting us to meet with him.
We stand at the crossroads and look; we
ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is.
...God, help us enter your way
every day and find rest for our souls.
Help us listen, learn, pray and confess.
Here we are,
eyes, ears and hearts wide open,
willing and ready to walk.