Giving Up Lent
It’s been several years since I’ve been living into the seasons of the church year. I love the way that Advent gives me a place to feel tension as well as anticipation. I enjoy the wonder of Epiphany, I join in for all of the “Alleluias” on Easter morning with gusto. Each year, I’ve prayed through my Lenten practice, allowing the Spirit to point to an area of my life which needed attention, some new eyes to see. In some ways, in years past, I’ve looked forward to Lent most of all.
But not this year.
This year, as Lent approached, I found myself dreading it. The past few months have been hard. They have felt like a call to penitence in a way, a season of fasting that I didn’t choose and cannot seem to escape.
I didn’t want to willingly walk into a season of bright sadness. I just wanted the sadness to end.
So Ash Wednesday approached and I decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, this year, I wanted to give Lent up. I thought about how Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. I figured that Lent was the same way.
There are times when I am certain that God has a sense of humor.
Ash Wednesday dawned, and I found myself on a two hour support call about my computer. I was jet lagged, my throat was hurting and I couldn’t get my email to work. Even after those two hours, the technical problems were unclear. I went to work, feeling steadily worse physically. My sore throat seemed to spread over my body, making me weak and achy.
About three-quarters into the day I threw up my hands. “I get it,” I said, out loud in my car. “I’m dust.”
I spoke the words out loud from the Ash Wednesday liturgy I’ve heard so often. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
There’s a reason I always feel at home in Lent. While it might seem morbid or difficult to focus on the temporal nature of life, it’s also kind of a relief. Once a year, for a season, I remember that I’m human, that I rely upon God for every breath, and that I am dust into which God has breathed.
I walked from that Ash Wednesday into a weekend of unqualified joy. After all of the mourning, loss and heartbreak and the trouble piling up around me, it was a welcome breath of air.
I took a deep breath and sucked it in, a little afraid that it might stop. That it was a limited time offer about to expire.
I hugged people I love. I felt seen, held and known. I stayed up far too late talking about things that matter (and things that don’t). The long-shot things I hoped for, almost against hope, happened at the last minute. I was surprised by things of beauty that I couldn’t have hoped to expect.
I think of Lent as a time to give up something. In the past, I’ve given up habits and ideas, ways of spending money and things I’ve chosen to consume. In trying to give up Lent this year, I think I was trying to give up some of the worry, the stress and the pain. But even as I moved in that direction, trying to ignore Lent as it approached, I think I’m finding that this Lenten season is about giving up my own ideas about what Lent looks like. It’s about putting down my bag with the first-aid kit and the extra pair of pants and the book. It’s about letting Jesus work Lent in me instead of my attempts to work through Lent.
So, in a sense, I’m still giving up Lent. I’m not reading devotionals, adopting new practices or putting pressure on myself to be or act or feel a certain way. But just perhaps, as I walk forward, remembering all along that I am dust, I’ll find that giving up my hold on how it goes and what I learn and even what I do, was the point all along.