Are We Giving Up for Lent?
I am ready to start giving up for Lent.
Sometimes it feels we have spent our lives struggling and striving.
We can remember back when we were in school, trying to understand subjects which mystified us. Some of us wrestled with math or writing or drawing. Others of us were working as hard as we could to learn how to play an instrument or how to play a sport.
Many of us continued to struggle to do and to keep jobs when school was over. We worked harder than we believed we could and were exhausted at the end of the day.
Some of us work hard for ourselves or for the people we love. We strive to make a living, or make a difference in the world, or to help other people. Our work can be urgent and demanding. We work hard, doing whatever it takes, refusing to give up until we succeed.
For many of us spiritual life feels similar to our everyday lives. We believed spiritual life was supposed to be about healing and rest, but it proved to be more striving. There seem to be so many rules and requirements and expectations.
We want to do everything we can and become everything we can be. None of us wants to be the first person to give up, to surrender, to quit, to disappoint everyone else.
We are ready to start giving up for Lent this year.
Maybe it is because of the pandemic and the quarantine. This year has been so overwhelming we feel too tired to keep struggling.
It has become clear all the things which we thought interested us are simply distractions.
This year, after months of struggling and suffering, Lent is about giving up. We are ready to give up.
Giving Up for Lent: Spiritual Life
Lent is a liturgical season which helps us prepare for Easter. It is similar in some ways to spring cleaning. We take a look at everything we have and rid ourselves of what we do not need.
Many of us take the opportunity to assess the habits and practices, beliefs and assumptions we are accumulating. Lent is about getting a clear idea of what we are holding onto which holds us back.
There are some years when practicing Lent feels artificial or inconvenient. Some years I would not mind ignoring Lent.
This year, for me, Lent feels right. It is not an inconvenience or an artificial exercise.
The months of being locked down have opened for me deep questions about our liturgical practices. It has been nearly a year since I have attended a worship service in person.
I appreciate worshiping online. Some of my questions are about, if we can worship like this, why would we go back?
Each of my insights and questions has given me new questions and insights to explore. So many aspects of spiritual life before the pandemic feel questionable now. Did we really need to do that? Do we need to continue doing it? How are these practices shaping us?
Is Lent this year about giving up?
Spiritual life, including our spiritual practices, have become more personal and intimate during the pandemic. This year is helping us remember spiritual life does not spring from or grow stronger in us because of how we practice.
Our practices help us become and remain open to spiritual life within us and in the world around us.
This Lent is about giving up our struggling and striving to gain spiritual life. We sit and listen to sacred stillness.
Giving Up for Lent: The Pandemic
The pandemic caused by the coronavirus has sparked fear and urgent anxiety for over a year.
Many of us rushed to stock up on all the things we thought we needed a year ago. We want to protect ourselves and the people we love.
I believe the pandemic is something we need to take seriously. It has killed so many people across the country and around the world. We ned to listen and follow the advice of doctors and scientists who are learning how the virus works. It will be even more significant as the virus continues to mutate and new variants develop.
We protect ourselves and each other by wearing proper masks, washing our hands, and keeping safe distance.
Like many people, I have been particularly frustrated in attempts to make an appointment to receive a vaccination. There does not seem to be any way to make an appointment where I live.
Rather than becoming even more frustrated, my practice is giving up for Lent. I am not going to get drawn further into an ongoing frenzied campaign to get the vaccine.
My Lent is going to be about continuing my protective practices, listening, and waiting.
Why Are We Giving Up for Lent?
We each have our own reasons for giving up for Lent this year.
I hope we are not filled with anxiety or fear or frustration by the pandemic this year. We each mourn the losses we are suffering, and each take our own steps to strengthen life.
By giving up for Lent we are not surrendering or cutting off the spiritual life within us or in the people around us. I hope we can release our struggling and striving so we can relax into everything spiritual life has for us.
There is a difference between quitting when we have no more options and giving up because we can. Lent is the liturgical season for giving up, for letting go, for releasing what holds us in place.
Our practice of Lent is like when people in a balloon release the line which tethers them to the ground. Lent is when we realize we can fly, we are free to see the world around us in new ways.
We are giving up and are released to fly.
How are we giving up for Lent this year?
Why are we giving up for Lent this year?
[Image by Clover Autrey]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is 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.