Are We Having a Good Lent?
We are almost two weeks into the liturgical season of Lent. How are we doing? Will it be a good Lent?
Fortunately, if it is not, we still have plenty of time to make it a good one.
What does it mean for us to have a good Lent? For some of us, it is a matter of feeling particularly sorry and penitent. Some of us prepare for Easter by stocking up on eggs and candy, making sure we are ready to celebrate.
There are people who assess the value of each year by how rigorously we follow our disciplines. If we avoid the bad habits we have selected for this year, or develop the goo0d habits, Lent is going well.
I do not understand this as a time for feeling guilty or for focusing on our mistakes. This is a season of anticipation and preparation for celebrating new life at Easter. Lent is not the spiritual equivalent of midterm exams or report cards.
We are not responsible to meet an arbitrary set of expectations, even our own.
This is not a season for us to spend worrying about new ways we are failing to follow the rules or meet standards. I do not believe there is a liturgical season for that.
A season spent worrying or feeling defeated would not be my understanding of a good Lent.
Measuring our actions and attitudes to determine how acceptable they are is not the purpose of this season. A good Lent is one in which we gain new questions and insights. They feed our reflection and shape how we understand and practice spiritual life.
This season is not for making us feel inadequate or guilty. It is an opportunity for us to pay attention to spiritual truths in everyday life.
How Can We Have a Good Lent?
Some of us believe Lent is all about some sort of scolding or admonition. It can be a challenge to hear upbeat, joyful messages during Lent.
A season which begins with ashes on our foreheads tends to feel a little bleak.
We hear a lot during Lent which might sound discouraging at first, but is actually straight talk.
I do not believe a good Lent is 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 and acknowledging where we can make changes.
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 are not the people we have the potential to become. It is not about beating ourselves up, but simply being honest.
There are people and situations we wish we had handled differently. We could be better, deeper, more healthy. A good Lent does not come from always having great answers or being close enough to perfect. A good Lent is about having another chance.
Looking at life realistically helps us recognize our own behaviors we would like to change.
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 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.
Practicing a Good Lent
It is not surprising Lent is longer than other liturgical seasons or more steeped in sadness and remorse. We ask why does Lent have to last so long and why does it need to feel so sad. Our underlying question, though, is what does it take to practice a good Lent?
Our experience of Lent is often challenging because we are trying to change how we act. We take 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, putting our beliefs into practice.
Some of us 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 and our values into practice. We intentionally set out to remove any barriers between spiritual life and our everyday lives.
Lent can be 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.
The Gift of a Good Lent
Lent is not a season when we usually think about receiving gifts. We do not collect presents under a tree or fill baskets with candy.
Many of us think of this season in terms of making sacrifices or disciplining ourselves. What gift does it offer us?
It can be easy for us to miss the gift of a good Lent. We are used to skimming across the surface of life, allowing ourselves to get away with not paying attention.
This is a season about paying attention, living honestly with what we believe and how we behave.
It gives us the gift of honest appreciation for how our beliefs inspire and inform the way we behave. 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 can be so challenging. The longer it lasts, the more opportunities we have to grow into spiritual life.
It has gifts to offer us each day.
What does a good Lent have to offer us today?
Where will a good Lent lead us from now until Easter?
[Image by JenavieveMarie]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and 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.