Why Does Lent Have to Last So Long?
For many of us it seems like Lent lasts forever. Why does Lent have to last so long?
Part of the reason Lent feels so long is because it is a long liturgical season. It is longer than the twelve days of Christmas or the four weeks of Advent. Lent is the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, though it is even longer than that. Sundays do not count the same as the other days of the week.
It can feel like Ash Wednesday was months ago and we still have more than two weeks left.
In addition, Lent feels long because many of us are following practices which stretch us. Some of us have decided not to consume caffeine or alcohol or chocolate during Lent. The weeks seem to spread out before us.
As we progress later into Lent our disciplines are even more challenging. We begin to understand more clearly why we chose them and how they are significant.
Lent is not about making sacrifices, but about releasing what holds us back. We allow what keeps us from trusting spiritual life to fall away during Lent.
Our experience of Lent also feels long because many of us hear more about penance and repentance. Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. Some of us believe it needs to be full of remorse and feeling guilty.
Many of us approach Lent as a sort of spiritual spring cleaning. We apologize for what we have done and try to polish things before Easter.
Some of us experience Lent as discouraging. We seem to feel Lent is, on balance, not helpful to our self esteem. We would like spiritual life to be inspiring and have a difficult time with Lent.
Why Does Lent Have to Feel So Sad?
Many of us who participate in a church think Lent is some sort of scolding or admonition. It can be a challenge to hear an upbeat joyful message during Lent.
A season which begins with ashes on our foreheads can tend to feel a little bleak.
We hear a lot during Lent which sounds discouraging at first, but is really straight talk.
I do not believe Lent has to be about feeling bad. We take time to prepare, time to get ready. Part of getting ready for the drama of new life and resurrection is recognizing where we are. We remember how we got here, acknowledging where changes need to be made.
It is a challenge for us to grow and learn when we believe we are doing everything well.
Lent is a time for admitting we are not perfect. We do things we regret and we are not the people we have the potential to become. We are not beating ourselves up, we are simply being honest.
There are people and situations we wish we had handled differently. We could be better, deeper, more healthy. The joy of Lent does not come from having such great answers or being so close to perfect. The joy of Lent is about having another chance.
Lent is an opportunity to pause, reflect, and experience the truth of ourselves. We take a breath, appreciate how it feels to be alive, and apologize for not being all we could be. Many of us ask for help or ask for forgiveness. Some of us offer help and forgiveness.
Knowing ourselves well helps us see which of our practices we would most like to change.
Why Does Lent Have to Be So Challenging?
It does not help Lent to be longer than other liturgical season or more steeped in sadness and remorse. We ask why does Lent have to last so long and why does Lent have to feel so sad. Our underlying question, though, is why does Lent have to be so challenging?
Our experience of Lent is often challenging because we are trying to change how we act. We take the time to reflect on what we believe and how we behave inconsistently with our beliefs.
Lent is a time when we focus our attention on behaving the way we believe we can.
Some of choose to practice living without substances which help us feel less or feel more. We give up things which serve to prop us up artificially so we can live into honest truths.
It is a challenge for us to put our beliefs, or values into practice. We intentionally set out to remove any barriers between spiritual life and our everyday lives.
Lent is challenging because we are struggling to become the people we have the potential to be.
We have set hard tasks for ourselves and we take them seriously.
What Gifts Does Lent Have to Give Us?
Lent is not a season when we usually think about giving gifts. We do not collect presents under a Lent tree or fill Lent baskets with candy.
Many of us think of Lent in terms of making sacrifices or discipling ourselves. What gifts does Lent have to offer us?
It can be easy for us to miss the gifts of Lent. We are used to skimming along the surface of life, allowing ourselves to get away with not paying attention.
Lent is a season about paying attention, living honestly with what we believe and how we behave.
The season of Lent gives us the gift of honest appreciation for how our beliefs guide our actions. Each day we take an intentional step toward putting our values into practice.
Every morning is a new beginning. Whenever we feel tired or sad or a little overwhelmed, we remember why Lent has to be so long. The longer it lasts the more opportunities we have to grow into spiritual life.
Lent has gifts to offer us each day.
What does Lent have to offer us today?
Where does Lent have to lead us from now until Easter?
[Image by Elmar Eye]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.