Return to Me With Your Whole Heart
By Ashley Cermak
When I was in elementary school and my parents would tell me Lent was coming, I was filled with dread. I knew that my parents would require us to give up TV during the school week, and that I, too, was going to have to choose something to give up individually. The way I saw it, Lent was the season that stole all the fun out of my life. I always found ways to avoid making the sacrifice too painful though—give up chocolate, but allow myself the delicacy of Rice Krispy bars; or only give up sweets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, allowing myself to indulge all I wanted the rest of the days. Small as these sacrifices were, I don’t think they were bad. I do think, however, that I was missing the point. I was so focused on the legality of “giving something up” that I failed to realize why I was giving something up.
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart with fasting and weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12). This is the verse that begins our Lenten Mass Readings, and it is one that keeps me grounded in the real purpose of Lent: to re-center my heart on God. We are called to fast not because God wants us to suffer meaninglessly, but because in doing so, the deeper desires of our hearts come to the surface. We see that beneath our desire for chocolate or Netflix lies a deeper desire for intimacy with our Lord. I think this is why the Church also calls us to deeper prayer during Lent—because we are drawn into this deeper friendship with God when we pause to pray. When we spend time reading Scripture, visiting the Adoration chapel, or praying the Rosary, the deeper hunger in our hearts begins to be filled by God’s presence.
“Return to me with your whole heart.” This part of the verse always catches my attention. Jesus doesn’t just want part of our hearts—the parts that look nice on the outside; the parts we’re proud of; or the parts that allow us to still somehow feel in control. No, Jesus wants our whole hearts—messes and all. Jesus is calling me—He is calling all of us—to return to Him, holding nothing back. He can handle it—in fact, He is delighted when we allow Him to be our Savior.
I no longer dread Lent. Yes, fasting is still something I struggle with, but I know that every sacrifice I make is an opportunity to allow God to satisfy the deeper parts of my heart. I pray that this Lent, we don’t just follow the legality of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, but that we truly return to God with our whole hearts.