Life and death are what we all hold in common, and there certainly seems to be endless reminders throughout each day of the death part– literally and metaphorically.
Whether driving by a cemetery and seeing a blatant reminder of the literal death that waits for us all, or navigating areas of our life that are now empty where they used to be filled, messages reminding us of the ever present work of death can be found all around us.
Some people are oblivious to them– and I sincerely envy these people.
Lives are full and busy, their hearts and homes feel complete or content…
Essentially, some people are so busy living that they don’t take much time to think about dying. And for those who are busy living lives they are content with, they don’t have to experience that many forms of death amidst the life they’re fortunate to live.
And that’s precisely where the season of Lent comes in. The season of Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, and it kicks off every year with Ash Wednesday. Growing up fundamentalist, I didn’t know anything about Lent or Ash Wednesday, other than it was “Catholic” and therefore really, really bad.
However, as an adult Christian, I learned that wasn’t the case on either count and began the spiritual tradition of recognizing and participating in the season of Lent. For those who are so busy living that they don’t spend much time thinking about or experiencing dying, participation in lent can be an antidote that brings some spiritual balance to our lives. Some people need a reminder to make the most of now. Some people need to be reminded that you don’t always get everything you want or need.
In fact, Lent begins with an in-your-face reminder that you’re going to die. As you walk forward and quietly experience your pastor or priest spread ashes on your forehead, the ashes are intended to serve as a present reminder that “from dust you were created, and to dust you will return.” During the remainder of Lent, it is also customary to practice fasting– deliberately denying yourself something for an extended period of time, and going without.
Lent is a reminder of death. Lent is also an opportunity to pause, reflect, and to experience a small form of death in one area of life, in order to remind you what it’s like to go with unmet needs or unmet desires, and to remind you to seek God in those moments.
This is something that is good, healthy, and practically helpful for many. For others, it’s literally the last thing we need.
I’m in the later category, so this year I’m breaking with my own historical tradition and am skipping Lent. In the past it’s been good and helpful, but this year I don’t need any of it. Seriously.
Other people will be fasting FOR Lent, but this year, I’ll be fasting FROM Lent.
It’s like the entire last year of my life has been some twisted version of a Lent-groundhog-day where you can’t outrun reminders of death, and can’t opt out of experiencing death. Some days have felt like never-ending mine fields of death experiences, and the last thing I need is one more. On @$%!ing purpose.
There’s been losses. Empty houses. Empty chairs and empty beds. New routines that feel like daily reminders of death. There’s been way less time, and way more time, in radically different ways. There’s an entire 4-month chunk of my life I barely remember other than laying in bed crying, when the only words I could utter in prayer was “it hurts too much.”
There’s been the endless days sitting in front of a computer where I used to be able to just spit out words naturally, as if writing and sharing and teaching flowed from a core part of who I am. The same spot where I once wrote a book cover to cover in six weeks became a spot where I struggled to finish three sentences by the end of one.
Oh, and then there’s certainly been the reminder of literal, physical death, as shortly after my father turned 60 this year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. While prostate cancer caught that young is often completely treatable and survivable, his turned out to by a more aggressive form that had already spread outside the prostate– meaning it was diagnosed at stage 4 and will require radiation, other therapies, and comes with a future that isn’t as predicable or secure as we initially hoped.
So, yes– I think participation in Lent is a good thing to do for many Christians. Especially super busy American Christians who often will find unexpected benefits in pausing, remembering death, and allowing parts of themselves to experience death for a short season. When you live a life where the vast majority of your wants and needs are met, it can be really healthy to remember what it’s like to go without.
But this year, I can’t fast for Lent– I have to fast FROM Lent, because my soul is worn out from the death experiences and death reminders that I’ve been stuck in for such a long season now.
I’m needing to skip ahead to the end of Lent– to that resurrection part.
Because I don’t need more reminders that I’ll physically die one day. I don’t need even one more area of my life that experiences forms of death or denial.
This year, instead of deliberately experiencing more death inside of me, what I’m really secretly longing for is a glimpse of hope that maybe– maybe— one day in this earthly life I’ll experience resurrection.
I don’t need the ashes or fasting. I don’t need someone to remind me I’ll die. What I’m really needing is a solid reminder that one day I’ll live.
For all those who don’t need one single more reminder or experience with death, I am with you– and this year I’m inviting you not to fast with me FOR Lent, but to fast FROM it.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and holds his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold.www.Unafraid-book.com.
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