For Christians observing the penitential season of Lent, a “bright sadness” can be found in the knowledge and experience of the confident joy that is theirs whenever they are blessed with the grace of repentance, even the “gift of tears,” from the Holy Spirit. The sadness comes from knowing how far we still fall short of the glory of God and the recognition of the sinfulness that infects so much of our daily activity in what may seem to be small ways: absence of humility, self-centered responses, judging others, continual satisfaction of carnal appetites that go beyond physical needs, pretty much unbroken forgetfulness of God, except when we need something from Him, complaining that negates any small amount of thanksgiving we manage to remember to give. “Pray without ceasing,” writes the Apostle Paul, and “Give thanks in everything.” Count others as better than yourselves. Love one another. Do good to your enemies. Forgive all. These are the marks of the Christian. We do fall short, so repentance is in order pretty much for the rest of our lives.

But the brightness comes in realizing that we, though sick, are under the care of the Great Physician who is merciful beyond measure and loves us more than we know. Taking our medicine, seeking His solicitude, grace, and healing balm, should be a joy to us. If not, it’s only because we haven’t yet caught up with the fact that our true life is hidden in Christ, and not with the passing things of this world. If the world has a stranglehold on our affections, we cannot love Christ as we ought. We will not be grateful as we ought. We will not be joyful as we ought. And so we will be something other than what He created us to be. As dirty mirrors, we will not reflect the light of Christ, but rather more darkness of our own making.

Lent, then, or anytime of repentance, is the walk back from the pigsties of our personal “far countries,” where we feed on mere food and pleasure, in diminishing returns, to the house of the Father, who always, always, seems to meet us more than halfway down the road.

Here is one text that reflects more brightness than sadness, from the Matins (morning prayer) of the Orthodox Church on the Monday of the First Week of Lent:

Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life.