On Ash Wednesday, which feels like a lifetime ago, I published an article called More Than a Fast: A Guide for Non-Christians Practicing Lent. In it, I gave the following advice:
There is a good chance you will fall down on your Lenten promise at some point during the season. But a Lenten promise is not like a New Year’s Resolution; it’s not over when you fail. If you mess up and break your Lenten promise, you’re still expected to pick up and try again. Keep trying until Easter Sunday. That’s the commitment.
Well, I feel down, fell down hard, and have not taken my own advice. This year, I decided to give up alcohol for Lent. I love studying and reading about different wines of the world. It’s a frivolous hobby that adds little value to my life other than it’s fun. So wine felt like the perfect thing to give up. As far as social life goes, I thought, I can drink soda in a bar with my friends.
But that was before God asked me to give up bars. And my social life. And my friends.
Put Aside Rationalization
On first glance, the reason why I abandoned my Lenten promise, against my own advice, is pretty clear: a global pandemic. Suddenly, most of the things that give me pleasure in life – going to the theater, taking my nephew to the playground, going out on the town with my friends – were not available to me. I could, however, try a new wine. So I rationalized that this Lent was different. God had different plans and I had to be flexible and go with the flow. And, to some extent, that is true. But it’s not the whole story.
Examine Why You Failed
To be clear, there is no indication that I have an addiction to alcohol. However, I am a part of American culture. We drink when socializing, with meals, and even at work events. It’s not surprising that, during this world-wide crisis, one of the first things people stocked up on was liquor. Alcohol is a huge cultural crutch. We could all afford to do better.
I didn’t just fail because I “switched out” one Lenten practice for another. I failed because, when faced with a crisis, I did what everyone around me seemed to be doing: numbing. But avoiding feelings of fear and sadness now only increases them later. There is no substitute for facing reality head-on. There is no substitute for relying on God.
Trust in God’s Mercy
Human beings fail in our promises to God all the time, but He never fails in His promise to us. God always forgives. It’s helpful to remember that God already knew, when you made your promise, exactly how it would go. But He still accepted your commitment. Like life itself, Lent is a journey to holiness. If we were already holy, we wouldn’t need it.
What if Lent Were Only Today?
There is still time before Easter. Even if it feels like you’ve missed your chance, you haven’t. I’m going to start again right now, and you can too.
Or maybe you can’t. This is, after all, a global pandemic. It’s important to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. After all, God is. What if Lent were only today?