One look at me should tell you that I never ordered the Charles Atlas system. But now as I think about it, I see a fundamental flaw in the ads, a flaw that is common in advertising. The flaw is the belief that you can only get love if you can somehow prove yourself better than someone else. We can extend that attitude even to our faith. We try to earn God’s love. Lent, then, becomes our Charles Atlas time. We picture God ignoring us, caring more about the saints, until our Lenten exercises build us up. We talk about what we are doing for Lent or what we are giving up for Lent as though a successful Lent will get God’s attention and convince Him to love us.
An adolescent, such as would be interested in the Charles Atlas system, is probably looking for the kind of girl who would be attracted to the big, strong type, and would look down on the weakling. As he matures, we hope that he would be more attracted to the girl who loves him for himself. As out understanding of God grows, we come to see Him as one who loves us for ourselves. Lent, then, is not an attempt for us to impress God. Rather, it is our time to grow to love God more deeply. Imagine the scene in the Charles Atlas ads if the bully kicks sand in the boy’s face, but the pretty girl chooses the skinny kid anyway. He should want to get to know that girl better. That, in effect, is what Lent is about. As we look forward to Easter, it is as if God is saying to us, “Look at what I have done for your in sending my Son to be your Savior.” So this time is for us a chance to reflect on how God loves us even when we fall short of His standards. Our Lenten observances open us up to a deeper appreciation for the love of God. By our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we come to see God as the center of our lives and the heart of everything that we do. We turn away from the things that keep us from the love of God, and we try to keep even the good things of our lives in the proper perspective as less important than our faith.
In forty days, at the end of our Lenten season, we may not find ourselves spiritual versions of Charles Atlas. We know, however, that God will not love us any less for our imperfections. It is our hope, then, that this time of Lent help us to appreciate God’s love even more, and to respond by loving him every more deeply in return.