Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Giving up Lent for Lent

"I'm giving up Lent for Lent."

It was a glib phrase that rolled off my tongue on Sunday night, as I was chatting with my brother's girlfriend.  (She'd been telling me that she is giving up spending money for Lent, and in preparation has been on a spending spree the last several days, stocking up on items she knows she'll need to have on hand, and we were laughing over the irony of that.)

A glib phrase, yes, but one that's true for me this year.

I practiced Lent for the first time in my last year of high school, ten years ago exactly.  I'd spent three years attending a Catholic high school, listening to my classmates bemoan their lack of chocolate or television or fast food for forty days in the late winter and early spring, and wondered what on earth this thing called Lent was (it wasn't exactly a practice familiar to my conservative evangelical upbringing).  I asked a friend, my Young Life leader, and together we read a brief entry in a theological dictionary.  She told me that she'd done it a few times, and nearly dared me to give it a shot.  I did.

That year I gave up reading fiction and magazines.  Brain candy reading, essentially.  I made a trip to the library, picked up a stack of Christian classics, or titles authored by those whose faith I admired, and started reading.  I think I only made it through one or two titles in the forty days (to this day I fly through novels, but tend to crawl through non-fiction), but the words that I read from thinkers as diverse as John Stott and Mother Teresa shaped and challenged me.  I've repeated that particular choice of Lenten sacrifice several times over the last ten years.  I've fasted desserts and sweets, experimented with more or less intentionality in the fasts, and even with adding something to my daily life, rather than subtracting.  And by and large these brief periods of sacrifice have tended to end with benefits reaped and a faith deepened.

But the last several years, Lent has shifted for me.  Instead of a worshipful meditation, it became a grinding obligation.  A performance of good habits, for the sake of good habits.  A dreaded interruption to my years.  The benefits of the fasts seemed lost in the resentment I felt at the obligation, and at the brutal and painful way the season impacted me.  There were reasons for that grinding painfulness that are too involved to share here.

I've made a lot of changes in my life over the last six months or so, and this year, I'm giving up practicing Lent as I work to continue the process of healing that I've been experiencing.

I may come back to it at some point in the future, but I want to approach the acknowledgment of the season with joy and desire, not anger, hostility and obligation.  I want to do it because it is something that has a positive impact on my life, not because it seems necessary, or because others I know are practicing it.  I'm not interested in suffering simply for the sake of suffering, or discipline for the sake of discipline, and this year, as I prayerfully considered the approach of the Lenten season (and I did prayerfully consider it, out of a decade's worth of habit, if nothing else), my sense was that I am simply to rest.  That I can sit this one out.  The God who has been speaking peace in places I didn't know it could exist, is speaking peace and stillness to this too.   Not a season of suffering and groaning.  Because honestly, I don't think I could face that right now.  Not something to dread (and I did dread it these last several years).  Not something to worry and obsess about.  Not something to be driven by, this need to appropriately prepare and move relentlessly through a season of suffering, towards a crucifixion.  No, in this season, I hear stillness, peace, joy, resurrection.

So I'm giving up Lent for Lent this year.  And I'm excited to meet Jesus in a place that need not be dreaded or avoided, but one that can be joyful, bring healing, and new life.


Shelley said...

Glad for the renewed peace, stillness, healing and life. Truly a greater lenten practice than most would encounter. Blessings Lisa. Especially this day.

christianne said...

This is totally beautiful, Lisa. And I completely celebrate with you your choice.

Ultimately, all of this, this walking with God, is about growing in communion with Christ. That's what I hear in your words here: greater communion with Christ in the rest, which brings joy and peace. Resurrection in the resting. I know that delights the heart of God.

PS: Loving your new blog template! Very cool and stylish. :)

Lisa said...

Thanks, Christianne!

and yes, resurrection in the resting - such a great way to put it!

glad you like the new template - I really loved the old one, and I'm not used to this new one yet, but it's growing on me :)