Great Lent is a crucial journey and a treasured gift. It’s this extended, intensified period of time that reflects what can actually happen in a day, a minute…a moment. We are always living and making choices, always experiencing places of suffering and death in our lives, and always existing in the joy of the empty tomb. When we step into this journey as a citizen of the Kingdom, then the journey is a movement towards the Lord and others. If we allow the Lord’s Kingdom to be as present as it is, then we will seek it at every moment.
Kingdom moments show up every day. The Kingdom is touching us and everything around us. When God’s design for us is realized, there His Kingdom is. When we come together in love, when we allow ourselves to be drawn to someone’s joy or pain, when we eat and sit together in community…these are realities of the Kingdom breaking into this world.
Our lives are a compilation of movements we choose and the circumstances we find ourselves in. If through all of it, we respond as one who is seeking to realize God’s call, then we will truly die before we die. What I mean is that our lives are meant to be sacrificial offerings. As the Lord voluntarily offered Himself on the Cross for the life of the world, so too are we invited to voluntarily die to ourselves so that others might live and thrive.
What does it look like to die before you die?
Take up YOUR cross.
In the middle of Lent, we are presented with the Cross. It is given to us to boost our strength and remind us where we are headed. We often say that everyone has a “cross” to carry…which is a way of saying that every person has a burden that they bear and struggle with as they walk through life. This is very true but following the Lord to the Cross isn’t just about bearing our burdens. It’s about bearing the burdens of others.
When we look at the Cross held high, we should also remember the victory and the power of our Lord’s sacrificial love. The text of the baptismal service proclaims that we are baptized into His “death.” Taking up my cross means that I set myself aside and allow the Lord to send me into the world to die for it. This dying before we die will look differently for each of us, as we are set apart for different offerings. But it begins with our trust and hope in what the Lord can do with a willing heart.
Mary embraces Theotokos.
“I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be according to Your will.” These powerful words wake me up every time I hear them. It is with these words that Mary accepts that she is Theotokos, God-bearer. By answering this call, she takes her place in God’s salvation story for the world. She takes hold of her role in God’s plan and lets go of herself. By doing this, she becomes her true self. Our lives are a constant preparation to hear and to answer as she did, pushing through fears and setting aside what we perceive our lives should look like.
Discover Your Offering.
God speaks to us in our hearts. He has placed pure desires there that draw us to people and places where His will is realized. If our lives are clouded with pursuing our own rewards and successes, we may not be able to hear our Lord when His loving call comes. Pursuing an occupation for sustainability is different than pursuing your vocation. The wrong pursuit with distorted motivations will likely leave you consistently miserable, empty, and in a state of longing.
To discover your calling, there are some questions to explore. What is the thing that, when you do it, people receive good things from it? Your unique calling is the best kind of difficult and leaves you exhausted in a fulfilling way. It brings you and others deep joy. Be open to discovering it, and when you do, let it evolve and take different forms. Through it all, trust that you will be taken care of when you are living out who you truly are.
Maintain Inner Peace.
If you have inner peace, do whatever you can to preserve it. If you don’t have it, pursue it relentlessly. Look to the spiritual guides and mentors in your life to help you find the best ways to pursue it. Different things will work for different people. Ultimately, you want to be able to lay your head on your pillow at night with a smile, having closure and resolution on the things that cause unrest in your heart.
Inner peace is a constant pursuit rooted in prayer and repentance. There will always be external disturbances around us that we can’t control; things that are up in the air, crisis, transition, and the list goes on. The state of peace in our hearts will determine how we process the external turbulence. Pursuing your own inner peace benefits everyone.
Live one Life.
Our lives are not a bunch of boxes that are separate. We have one life to live and one person to be. There are different roles we have and different things we do. But you will truly live in the Kingdom if you don’t draw lines in your life.
My spiritual Father once said that there aren’t times when our spiritual life is turned off. We either live in the Spirit or we don’t. Everything we do is spiritual if we do it as a servant of God. The way we play sports, watch sports, watch TV, and even the way we exist in our church community.
Show up wherever you are as someone who is the Lord’s and you will feel oneness on the inside and, God willing, create oneness in your environment.
If you are able, work to heal the divisions that exist around you: conflict with others, unhealthy separation of groups, fear of unfamiliar people and places. Choosing healthy relationships is different than being against someone. It’s better to think about how you spend your time, rather than who and what you cut out of your life. I choose to eat well. I choose to exercise. I try not to choose words or actions that foster conflict or division. It’s the Lord’s design for humanity that we come together and exist as one body. Look around and see if you can play a part in healing broken relationships or communities.
Check your motivations.
Take time to stop and ask yourself “why.” Then, with every step, focus your why on the Kingdom…and you will die before you die.
Katrina Bitar, Director
This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today