Joy of Lent
In the 1940s, Dr. Arlie Bock of Harvard initiated a long-term study of nearly three-hundred students of the university in an effort to discover sources of living a satisfied and successful life. Reaching a consensus on what makes a successful life proved elusive. The adult lives of those studied proved too complex and diverse, not to mention the significant appearance of slight to severe mental illness (the thin line between genius and insanity) to draw definitive causation for success or failure. The ability, however, to adapt to the vicissitudes of life and to apply a positive approach to the challenges encountered was present in those who might be judged to have achieved a successful life. According to an investigation of the data by psychiatrist George Vallant, in the final analysis the most important factor in happiness, satisfaction, and success in life rested in the quality of their relationships with others. Everyone can draw comfort and reassurance from this evaluation. Education, wealth, power, and social status all have their proper place, but the achievement of happiness and success rests in the possession of true love and true friendship.
Searching for fulfillment and happiness in life occupies people throughout the world. Because the quest is universal, one would think that the goal of contentment is identifiable and attainable by all. From the dusty recesses of memory, the strain of an old Comden-Green-Styne song sung by Perry Como comes to mind – Make Someone Happy. Some lyrics apply particularly:
Fame, if you win it,
Comes and goes in a minute.
Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?
Love is the answer.
Someone to love is the answer.
Make someone happy.
Make just one someone happy
And you will be happy too.
While neither this nor any other popular song is able grasp the entirety or the complexity of each person's feeling of contentment and fulfillment, the point of emphasis is both humanly and divinely valid.
Although the outcome of the study and the sentiment of the song are illuminating, any devoted Christian hardly requires scholarly data or song lyrics in order to show the path to success and happiness. The dogma and moral directives of Christianity provide the template for the successful and happy life. Recognizing and maneuvering around the obstacles hindering that happy life is the challenge.
Thus, the task of Lent is revealed. The tools needed to establish the essence of good and virtuous relationships are readily available; The Golden Rule teaches that people should treat others in the manner that they wish to be treated; the Great Commandment – the foundation of the moral life – provides the dynamic of a living love flowing among God, neighbor, and self. Focusing on these truths is the work of Lent, the guiding beacon through the fog of modern culture and ancient temptations, and the source of the "joy" of Lent.
Yes, Lent can and should be joyful. The somber and sober atmosphere that the season of Lent evokes in the mind and heart sets the mood for the journey toward true joy. Looking deep within the motivations and the strategies behind the goals one is striving to reach can be awkward, difficult, and harshly revealing. Nevertheless, freeing oneself of one's delusions begins the pathway to holiness. Honesty in self-examination clears the field for the structuring of thought and action that are beneficial for self and others. Determining to grow into a better person than the one who existed formerly, opens the totality of one's personhood to the influences of God's grace and love and to the reception of the loving gifts of others. From this a more profound truth will enter the soul: the suffering of Christ that led to Easter gives the believer's struggle for joy a successful end.