Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Whole Lent Thing

Growing up I can easily remember that messy start to the Lenten season, Ash Wednesday.  At the time, my understanding was that it was a strictly Catholic thing and my friends, usually the ones with more devout parents , would show up to school with a dirty smudge on their foreheads and a grumpy look on their faces.  A look, to my understanding, that was to be characteristic of the Lenten season wherein people should be more solemn and moody as a reflection of the spirit of the time. (Because teenage personalities are often solemn and moody anyway, there was no way to refute or confirm my theory at the time.)   

My church, for the record, never talked about Lent. I had no idea that it was actually a season observed by Protestants too or, for that matter, that there were Protestants and Catholics alike who actually took the season seriously and saw God working in their faith in new and specific ways through their fasting or abstinence or reading.  It wasn’t until I got to college that a friend first asked me “what I was giving up for Lent” and I had to wrestle with the reality that this season might include me in some way. 

Fast forward many years from that first asked question, several seasons of giving something up (chocolate, desserts, sugar…do you see a theme? Yes, I should’ve gone sugar-free a long time ago. Clearly I am an addict) and a vaguely growing feeling of guilt and obligation that would set in some time after January each year in anticipation of what I would need TO DO.  I, the person who didn’t even know what Lent really was until I was 20, could not receive it as a gift and time to focus on God and release areas of selfishness, but as a legalistic check mark in my little Christian daytimer.  Sigh.

This year, in an overt attempt to avoid being legalistic, I chose to ignore Lent altogether.  This may have been a less than helpful response but not particularly surprising since my husband likes to point out (lovingly and often) that I am usually all-in or all-out, intense to a fault about my decisions. (And yes, this tendency in me is also what leads me to do things like break my toe while energetically aerating my lawn with a tiller.)  But for the last week and a half, I have been thinking a lot about Lent and wondering if (a) it’s ok to get on the Lent train late or if you lose some points that way and (b) why I even care when it was supposed to have been freeing to NOT participate this year. (For those currently panicking about my theology, the “points” thing was a joke.)  

So, this morning, as I sat reading and praying and thinking for the first time in awhile, it hit me.  I have been spending a lot of time running from God lately.  I am aware of it, I know it’s going on and I am doing just about nothing to turn and run in the right direction. Mostly it is because I am tired. I am tired of dealing with my mind churning about with questions about God’s sovereignty, I am tired of all the waiting, I am tired of always feeling like no matter how quality the time I spend with God is, that in the back of my mind I am still confused about the last three years of our lives and what God’s role in them has been.  I am tired of people telling me that “God has a plan” or that “He must be trying to teach me something” or that “the minute I really let go and trust Him, I’ll get what I want.”  Just tired.  And I realized the most freeing thing I actually could do would be to enter into this time of Lent.  Not to get something out of it, not because I would feel better by sacrificing something or to check something off, but because my soul needs to do this.  It needs to enter into Jesus’ pain, into his waiting, his knowledge of what was to come, his need to draw close to His father while he waited for his death and his choice to live fully and freshly in every day even as he knew what was coming.  And I need to, rather than giving up something tangible, give up  my need for understanding right now.  Maybe not forever, but for right now.  To breathe a prayer each morning that inhales trust and exhales confusion.     

So, eleven days late, I’m on board.  I haven’t attended any services or done any specific readings (probably because I made this decision about a half an hour ago), but I’m hoping the accountability of the season will reorient the direction of my feet and that I will be able to sing these words of the song Forever Reign, 

“I’m running to your arms, I’m running to your arms, the riches of your love will always be enough,"

and mean them. 


  1. Jackie Rohde BolenMarch 3, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    Struck a chord with me. I too have been running away for the last four years. I have been told those same things and have been questioning. I have actually had a friend tell me I was trying too hard to find and feel God. I hope one day I will be able to let go, trust and not feel this driving need to understand. Good luck! You can do it!

  2. Enjoyed reading this, Carolyn. I grew up similarly not really knowing much about Lent. Now it has become a significant part of my spiritual walk, and it is neat to find the riches that exist in observing this season. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Have you no sense of decency? You have taken enough from my Catholic people. If you steal Lent, we'll have nothing left to call our own except for the Rosary, Purgatory, the Pope, and prayer cards with creepy pictures of Saints!