This is the time of year when Christians observe the season of Lent. It’s a time traditionally set aside for spiritual reflection, prayer and self-denial. The weeks of Lent merge into those that lead us to Good Friday and Easter.
During Lent, our thoughts focus on the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, where the gospels tell us he fasted, prayed and underwent temptations. The special prayer of the day for the first Sunday of Lent recalls that Jesus was ‘tempted as we are, yet without sin’. We can only speculate as to the manner in which temptation came to Jesus in the wilderness.
Like any period of self-examination, the one that Jesus endured must have thrown up many questions and self-doubts about his own role and about the wisdom of the task that he was setting himself. The mission that he embarked upon after this period in the wilderness meant that his life would not be the settled, comfortable and safe one that most of us strive for. His life, after the wilderness, was to be one of uncertainty, hardship and insecurity.
We can imagine Jesus wondering what life would have been like if he had chosen to go back to Nazareth and resume his work at the carpenter’s bench in the family home. What could have followed for him: Marriage? Children? A successful small business? Respectability as a leading member of the synagogue and the community? And yet things were to turn out very differently for him as we now know.
The turn of events often hinge on the making of a decision. Jesus, like all of us, was confronted by choices and as we know it’s not always possible to know if you’re making the right decision from the choices available, and all too easy to be persuaded to make the wrong decision.
Part of the thing about Lent is about making right decisions in our lives. For a Christian that will always mean making ethically and morally sound decisions that resonate with the teachings of the gospels, and with what we believe that God requires from us.
Life is so complicated and nothing is straightforward. We can never be quite certain that the problems and questions that need addressing and answering are being answered as they should be, so as to maintain our own moral integrity.
In the end, though, life isn’t like a game of chance, and the option we choose in reaching a decision isn’t just a gamble. We weigh up the possibilities, and in choosing, we try to envisage the dangers in leaning towards one decision as against the other, and after deliberation all we can do is make our choice in good faith and with a clear conscience.
In his poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’, the American poet Robert Frost has as his subject walking on a road, only to find it diverging into two roads ahead. Both seemingly offer the same, uncluttered, smooth way forward, though one appears less travelled than the other. Which is the one to take?
Eventually the subject of the poem chooses the path less travelled. The poem ends on an uncertain note, with the subject knowing that once embarked upon there can be no turning back on this path and that in the choosing of one against the other, a difference will have been made to his life.
That’s as far as we should push the analogy of the road to a life, for in reality the decisions that we make about our lives, and the lifestyle we choose, can be overturned and even changed for a better option. Part of Christian teaching – one which is the very essence of the season of Lent – allows for this; it’s called repentance (being sorry for the things we’ve done) and forgiveness (starting again with the slate wiped clean).
(This article by Rev’d Robert Williams was originally published as part of St David’s Messenger in March 2016)