Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
The opening lines of our first reading from the prophet Joel sound different to me today. Even now, he begins, even now. Yes, even now, despite living through many Lenten seasons, God continues to ask me to turn around – even now. And not to simply turn around, but to do so with an open heart, one bereft of all the puffery of everyday living. It is my heart, God wants, my heart and your heart and all of hearts – not simply a world that overflows with uneaten chocolate bars, untouched French fries, quiet social media streams, and less meat. Whether not God wants those things, I cannot say, but it does seem evident… God wants our hearts. Even now, forever, always says God. Just turn around please!
Last Friday night I saw Elton John in concert. Near the end of the show he did something that brought me to tears. These tears were the kind that I hope and pray leads to the weeping mentioned by Joel in that first reading for today. Sitting at the piano, Elton talked about how in 1990 he was ashamed of himself. His life lacked any sense of logic or control, he was living in a way that made no sense and that was harmful to him and to others. It was at that point he at long last uttered three words that changed his life… I. Need. Help.
This Lent I think that the thing I need to do before creating a list of things to give up or take on, is to simply bow my head in prayer and say out loud… I need help. Maybe it is time to stop working so hard on what I can let go of, and simply let go of my pride. In that way, as I ask for help, I have given up the biggest distraction of all. In that space, God can do some work.
As my heart opens and tumbles out before God, all messy, hard around the edges, cracked perhaps, and swollen with false pride, God can do something with it. Something I cannot do on my own, even if I have a long list, a bundle of books, and a plethora of prayers to launch my Lenten journey. What if God is not looking for my perfectly polished List O’ Lenten Desires, but only for me to say, “I need help.” And then to simmer down and accept it?
Even now, as the dawn of Lent breaks on the horizon of my soul this year, I pray that I begin by praying these three words. “I need help.” Lent is so typically filled with a to-do list of holiness, but I think this way may be the way to go. Each day, many times a day, may I say to God, “I need help.” With that, may I surrender to God, and may the transformation of healing begin.