Photo Credit: Beth Holmes
Lent first crossed my radar in college, thanks to multiple Catholic acquaintances. Actually, many members of my undergraduate social circle–yes, including atheists and Jews–observed Lent in a spirit of solidarity with our devout Christian pals.
It was during our senior year that my friend Theresa advised, “Don’t just use Lent as an excuse to jumpstart a diet. Pick something that helps you to be mindful about the quality of your life and the intention with which you live it.”
An excellent recommendation I’ve been trying to apply (with varying degrees of success) ever since.
To take it a bit broader: the traditional purpose of Lent (according to that bastion of spiritual expertise, Wikipedia) is for a Christian to engage in concentrated prayer, penance, repentance, and self-denial. Ultimately, Lent is about spiritual refocusing, about drawing closer to God.
Hence the 40-day fasting and/or making of resolutions.
I had big plans for Lent this year. I was going to guide my children through meaningful activities every day! We would do #picturelent at LECFamily. And I would thoughtfully implement each activity that came home in our seasonal Sunday School gift bag. Purple place mats to drive home the liturgical colors! Candle lighting to encourage meditation! A calendar with a daily activity and/or prayer! A book containing brief Bible stories and stickers to place on a three-dimensional cross!
But wait. There could be more. Wouldn’t my children benefit from witnessing my personal spiritual practice? Absolutely! So what distraction or harmful behavior am I giving up? What devotional activity am I adding to my daily regimen?
I must plan! I must execute! I must achieve!
I told myself I was being mindful, but this was really my own personal version of Lent as diet.
Given my outlook, it’s probably no surprise that the Universe decided to deliver a swift, spiritual kick to my head. Lately, my life seems to demand a lot of surrender. And it’s certainly prompting a ton of introspection. In short, I am not making Lent happen. Instead, Lent is happening to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of intangible fasting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the sacrifice I originally chose. I had planned to fast from pressures in order to be prayerful. For 40 days, I would eliminate “should” from my life–you know, all those not-quite-obligations that clutter a family’s calendar. This, I knew, would free up tons of time. And I’d reinvest that recovered time in reaching heights hitherto unknown, both as a Spiritual Being and an Impressive Mother.
But it turns out that I am not fasting from pressure and “should” after all. Instead, I am fasting from control. And I’m fasting from pride. Pride and control, after all, are really what my personal Lenten plans were all about.
Pride and control–two besetting sins I would never tackle on my own. Theoretically, I’m grateful that the choice is out of my hands.
So okay, kids, I’m letting go. We’ve basically given up on any rituals involving the special calendar and candle from our gift bag… and that’s okay. At least you’re interested in your Bible story book (and by “interested” I mean highly invested in fighting over the stickers). And you know what? It’s more than we did last year. It’s a start. It’s enough.
And okay, self, I’m letting go. I fritter away my personal time. I space out during prayer. Instead of sending God my gratitude, I fret about upcoming kindergarten registration. Instead of studying scripture, I read a romance novel. And instead of just surrendering to the beauty of this Lenten season, I (still) keep fighting to change it into something else entirely. Something else it was never meant to be.
But that’s okay. Because you know what? I’m learning. I’m at least trying to listen. I’m trying to be still. I’m trying to observe. I’m trying to surrender my illusion of control.
It’s more than I did last year. It’s a start. It’s enough.
I’m wishing you all a Lent filled with deepened spiritual practice and reflection. I would love to hear more about how you observe these 40 days.