Lent Derailed

Lent Derailed March 14, 2016

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Lent is our journey from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the darkness of Holy Saturday.

In my last post, I shared about some unscheduled Spring cleaning – an oven fire, a fire extinguisher, and a massive mess. Well, I am still finishing the cleaning. It seems to grow in scale, the closer I get to the finish line. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but it’s what it feels like.

One thing this whole event did was derail my attempt at Lent this year. I attempted a food based commitment, and losing the ability to cook pretty much sent me over the edge. It’s not that I couldn’t succeed, but that the extra effort to compensate was just too much.

This caused me to reflect on what Lent is, how it functions, and how I should feel about my failure. Some of my understanding is formed by my Pub Theology crew.  We recently talked about Lent and the way that it can function for believers and non-believers. That there is value in setting aside time for special disciplines (even if one does not tie it specifically to Jesus and Easter) that can have meaning. Giving up things, or doing things for others can be a benefit not only to the self, but also to others.

There was definite agreement around the table that treating Lent with a legalistic mindset defeated the purpose. By making it a must or making it inflexible, it forces a way of being that separates the practice from the person doing it. It also has the problem of becoming something we do because we have to, even if we don’t understand why we do it.

While I’m not thrilled my Lent observance has fallen apart, I think it also testifies to the realities of life. That curve-balls happen. Timelines get disrupted. Sickness can take over. None of these things are particularly hostile or intentional, but they are significant enough to pull new goals and practices off balance.

So how do we understand this kind of failure. Is it just one more way we let God down, let ourselves down, or is it something else? I think one thing to consider is that Lent, in all its uniqueness in the church year, is also fully integrated into our everyday experiences. And sometimes things go wrong. Even with the best of intentions, we might lose track of things when we’re dealing with sick kids, car problems, and emergencies.

This leads me to wonder if reflection can be helpful here. Not to create guilt but to reexamine life and look for new paths. Are there ways to make disruptions less painful and chaotic?

  • Are there ways in which I could reorder my life so I have more space for disruptions?
  • What do the margins in my life look like right now (those built in breathing spaces)?
  • How do I decide what takes precedence – the normal or the exceptional? What are the values and beliefs that help me figure this out?
  • Is there an area of life where I could use an outside perspective to help things make more sense in relation to organization?
  • How can I give myself grace when I fall short? Who can I call for encouragement? How can I forgive myself more quickly? Do I need to legitimately apologize for falling short?

I wish I knew that someday it would all iron itself out and be easy, but I don’t think that’s the world we live in. But I do believe in making changes when I can, and being more understanding and self-compassionate when I fail.

Also, if you’re a minister or involved in ministry during Lent, give yourself extra grace. You have a lot on your plate. The timeline is starting to compress as we race towards holy week and not everything can get done.

So, for all of us, if you eat a square of chocolate or have a cup of coffee by mistake, just acknowledge it, pick yourself back up, and keep heading toward the cross.

It will take us in whatever condition we arrive in.

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