Why I'm Not Practicing Lent This Year
I didn’t go to an Ash Wednesday service last week.
I was all set to go, and then I didn’t. I was curious about the chance to try a different church service, to see if it felt better on my bones and if my heart would be too distracted by the newness to race and race. Instead I filled up my car with gas on the way home from work, made dinner, and picked up my sister after her class. No ashes for me this year.
There were several years of my life that felt entirely like Lent.
In that season, I was ritually and practically giving up every person and belief I'd been holding on to. I dug out all of the dreams and doubts stashed under my bed, and I burned them. I was fasting in darkness and crying in my car a lot.
I started sorting out all of the physical and mental and spiritual implications of a theological upbringing that said that I was dust and nothing more, so squelch yourself, don’t speak up, be less, but also try harder, and don’t ask questions because you are dust, you are dust, you are dirt.
My life isn’t like that anymore; I’m in an entire year of Easter. I am experiencing a season full of exciting new things and ideas blooming and rooted relationship. I am finding and getting what I want and it is an incredible challenge. I am so grateful. There are moments when the growth is hard or I find a new patch of shame to work through, but my life and faith are actually good right now. Pretending otherwise simply seems silly. Lent would be a farce right now, in this time, because I am not in that place.
Practicing Lent seems too much like revisiting that dark place. I am afraid of going back. The way we talk about dust and absence isn't grounding for me; it recalls the exhausting, painful years of removal and regrowth. Intentionally giving something up for a season reminds me of all the things I had taken from me with no hope of resurrection. Contemplating my mortality sends me looking down the chasm of those days where I couldn’t fully exist because I felt so worthless and ashamed.
It seems too clean and in control to accept forty days of fasting that will end in certain triumph when I had no map, no timeline, and no assurance of happiness through all of that suffering. Those years of darkness were real and yes, I can see good and God in them now, but that does not make me like them.
To be clear, I appreciate all of the
conversations about Lent that are happening right now around blogs and tables. I
love the attention and energy channeled into projects that bring real water. And I certainly don’t begrudge anyone an important spiritual practice. But this
year, in this context, it is not for me.
Anything I try to build in comparison seems weak. Part of this may be the imbalanced way that, as a raised and current Evangelical, I approach the liturgical calendar, and I'll be talking about that tomorrow.
But today I'm celebrating that dust is not all I am and depression is not in my life right now and that I am finally using my voice. I am choosing to sit under a waterfall of blessing and accept the sensation of goodness on my skin. I am reveling in physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity. I am wearing bright colors and laughing loudly and saying yes, because that is what attention to my real life requires.
I don’t know how long it will stay this way or if Lent will find me again or what it would be like. My present discipline is being exactly where I am right now, watching all of this light.