Time for Change: Reflections on Lent and Easter
Few times in the Christian year call us to reflect on transformational change like Lent leading toward Easter. Springtime is lush with rebirth, new beginnings, and new growth. Too often, however, we want to race to the Easter Resurrection without fully embracing the Lenten process that leads there. Lent reflects the forty days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness — tempted by Satan — in readiness for a ministry destined to end in tragedy. Few of us can relate to the level of sacrifice and commitment that Jesus displayed in his forty days, yet Lent provides us with an opportunity to deepen our spirituality by engaging in regular discipline from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday. The wilderness — the desert days of Lent — is the true path toward spiritual transformation.
There is a compelling metaphor that helps us embrace the wilderness and prevents us from racing to Easter. It is the metaphor of the seed. Jesus began his teaching ministry with the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) and referred to seeds and trees, fruit and branches, throughout his ministry. To see the metaphor of Christian growth and spiritual development contained in a seed is to learn valuable lessons about change and transformation. Receive these six lessons from the seed as six weekly devotionals for this Lenten season. Incorporate them into your daily meditations so that they might grow to full bloom in your heart.
Lesson One: Seeds Need a Rich Environment
A seed that lacks appropriate soil may sprout, but will quickly wither and die. Even in the best soil, without water and nutrients, growth will be limited. Without sun and cultivation, plants will decay and spoil. Seeds require a rich, healthy environment in which to grow. This applies to the environment in which we grow as Christian disciples. There must be an ongoing flow of comfort and security, challenge and inspiration, learning and service. Without such an environment, discipleship growth is stunted, stagnant, or worse, dead. We create an environment for our spiritual formation through prayer, study, worship, fellowship, and service.
Lesson Two: Seeds Can't Be Rushed
When seeds do not sprout, take root, and grow, try yelling at them. Of course, that is a preposterous idea. No one would ever think that they could somehow rush the normal growing process. Seeds require the amount of time that they require. In God's plan, the time things take is the right time. People, however, get impatient. Our culture puts pressure on us to rush through everything. We live in an age of instant gratification. Seeds teach us that we need to learn to wait, to develop patience. Christian formation is a process of seedlike growth. Patience is the key ingredient to transformational growth.
Lesson Three: All Seeds Grow at Different Rates
Plant a package of seeds, and immediately you see diversity in the rate of growth. Some sprout almost immediately and begin a steady rate of growth. Late sprouters often become early bloomers. And some normal beginners end up stunted and sickly. Growth is rarely even, and it is often chaotic. Nothing we do will change this diversity. Where seeds are concerned, we are comfortable with different rates of development. This is not always true with our attitudes about Christian believers. We often adopt a "cookie-cutter" approach to disciple making that makes some seem advanced, while others lag behind. The seed teaches us that to mature in different ways at different times is the only true normal.
Lesson Four: Change Happens in Stages
Examine any plant as it grows from seed to maturity, and you will find that it is hard to believe you are looking at the same plant. While the growth follows a smooth process, it proceeds through distinct stages. These stages are marked by unique characteristics and are a measure for the relative health and well-being of the plant at any given time. Our spiritual development progresses through stages as well. Belief and inquiry deepen to devotion and discipleship. Learning and following evolve into teaching and leading. Growth within the community of faith matures to a life of service in the world. We move through ages and stages of faith development as we grow from seed to sapling to fruit-bearing tree.
Lesson Five: Seeds Contain the Past and the Future
Each seed is the product of previous generations and contains within it all the genetic code for the future. Seeds are filled with the information that yields transformation. Each generation builds upon the last and lays the foundation for the next generation. The Word of God is the information we contain — passed down throughout the ages and preserved in us for the future — that holds the power to transform us. When we give ourselves time to grow, we unleash the God-given power to become mature Christian disciples.
Lesson Six: Seeds Have a Purpose Larger Than Themselves
Growth is not the purpose of a seed, but a means to an end. Unless seeds give rise to new seeds, they fail to fulfill their purpose. Transformation never happens for its own sake. Change happens to lead us to a new place. Growth occurs that we might not only know more, but that we might do more. Seeds are judged, ultimately, on the fruit that they bear. Christians may never content themselves with growing in their knowledge and love of God. Growth that fails to lead to a change in behavior is cancerous, not healthy. We grow for a reason, and that reason is something much larger than any individual's needs.
The lessons of the seed help us see Lent, not as a time of sacrifice and denial, but as a time of preparation and anticipation — preparation for the work to which God calls us and anticipation of the fullness of life that God promises.