: the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting
If you don't come from a faith tradition that follows a liturgical calendar, the idea of church seasons might seem odd, useless or even suspicious to you. (I once had a friend tell me she wouldn't consider observing Lent until someone could show her the Biblical precedent for it.) Yet the longer I participate in a spiritual life structured around the
liturgical calendar, the more I realize how well it suits me.
Lent snuck up on me this year: this week is chock full with Shrove Tuesday today, Ash Wednesday tomorrow and Valentine's Day Thursday. By the end of the week, we won't know whether to celebrate or contemplate. Which is perhaps the very value that the church seasons bring us - reminders to pause and reflect on both the beauty and the pain of this life.
A friend posted an Abraham Lincoln quote on Facebook today. It read, "Life is hard, but so very beautiful." The same could be said of Lent. I often find it hard from start to finish. I want to choose the right discipline - one that is meaningful, one that will change me, one that is what I need, not what others are doing. Once chosen, I want to embrace the discipline, however difficult that may be. Last year, I committed to take a morning walk every day of Lent - and we promptly went to Green Bay, WI the second week of Lent. So I bundled up and walked anyway. The year before that, I gave up caffeine, which was even harder than a morning walk in Wisconsin.
I've had the most success with Lenten disciplines when I've prayed and asked God to show me what to give up or take on during Lent. So when I realized ten days ago that Lent was fast approaching, I was worried. I smile a bit at myself about that - do I think God can't answer quickly? That I'm going to catch him asleep on the job? That I must get my request in with a two week minimum? I think it's partly that I don't trust myself to hear well or quickly, but there is also an element of my faith that thinks I need to give God time to get around to answering me.
My worry did not abate when I prayed about Lent and the first thing I heard was, "Write." Write what? Write everyday? How? When will I find the time?
But as I explored this thought, I realized how bereft of creative outlets my life has become. I don't blog as often as I'd like. My journal is filled with white space. I rarely take out my collage materials. I haven't made anything at all since Advent projects with the girls. More than just writing, I see in my life a need to create and to make the space for that to happen. If my daughters will live what they see modeled, they aren't going to be taking very good care of themselves in two or three decades. I need to put on my oxygen mask first if I want them to know, use and flex their creative muscles.
So I had the first piece of the puzzle: something creative. As I thought and prayed and pondered some more, my mind kept circling all of the various pursuits I am currently neglecting. Productive things like writing or art, but also restorative things reading and taking long baths. As I thought about all my heart was aching to do, I realized that might be my discipline: to create space to fulfill my heart's desires. The beauty and pain of this will be the need to constantly rely on God to show me my heart's desire for that day's allotted time. Because while some of you may know immediately the desires of your heart, I have done an excellent job of burying those desires deep within me. It's like an excavation project to get to them. I can tell you what any of the immediate members of my family want, but when asked what I want, that requires a long and thoughtful pause before an answer emerges.
I am approaching tomorrow's start of the Lenten season with some trepidation. Does my discipline sound more self-serving than God-honoring? (My daughter B wanted to adopt a "Lenten discipline" of eating dessert after every meal. I gently re-directed her.) Am I willing to face my own desires with eyes open? Can I bear the pain of seeing desires that will go unfulfilled (since this is why I hide them away in the first place)? Most of all, will I emerge transformed at Easter?
Because that's what I want: transformation. I want to listen and see with a willing heart, a heart willing to walk through pain for the beauty.
The word Lent comes from lengthen because it arrives at the time of year when the days are growing longer, stretching out to give us more light with each sunrise. I want my heart to stretch and lengthen and be grown this Lent.