I love it when I see someone say Lent is the best part of the liturgical calendar or that it is their favorite liturgical season. I think that is so awesomey-awesome.
I have tried to love Lent. I have tried eliminating less and adding more. Or eliminating a small, but suprisingly difficult thing. I have tried all kinds of pump-myself-up activities. But it all comes down to the Lent is HARD and I’m a whiner. And when I whine I feel like even more of a Lenten failure and then I whine some more. I’m just never going to be one of those people who enjoy suffering or growth. I’ll do them, sure, but I can’t make myself enjoy them. And God, you know I’ve tried.
I’ve heard people say that they are a Lent person or an Advent person or even as Kathleen Basi has said, an “Ordinary Time” person. Of those three I’m definitely an Advent person. I like preparation and like how festive the preparation is. Although Lent is also a time of preparation, it always feels so solemn to me, as it should but it is also supposed to be considered a time of joy. But I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I equate the two seasons to experiences I have had in my own life this way: Advent is like pregnancy, a build up to something spectacular and joyous with little reason to think it will not be. Lent is like watching a loved one go into hospice, although we knew the ultimate goal is heaven and the eternal reward, it still hurts to help usher a soul into it and know we will never again feel their embrace nor hear their voice in this life.
I think another issue I have with Lent is the time…six weeks. See, here’s how I stack up in terms of my favorite liturgical seasons: Advent, Triduum (I KNOW, I KNOW, I’M GOING TO ADDRESS THAT!), Easter, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent. Okay, Advent, we’ve covered now why is Triduum second? Well, it packs the most emotional punch and it does it in just three days. THREE DAYS PEOPLE! For me anything painful or hard, be it childbirth/ripping off a band-aid/or undergoing some other test I can’t think of right now, I always take the quick/more intense pain route. Perhaps that’s why one of the crosses God has given me to bear is migraines which tend to be rather drawn out affairs. You know, to teach me how to bear suffering that can sometimes be a dull stabbing over a long period of time. And I still suck at it but, life goes on and I’m still trying. Those three days of intense prayer, fasting and mass, mass, mass those are some of my most beautiful memories and some of the times I’ve physically felt my faith. But for me, with Lent, it’s not so much the sacrifice that gets to me but the fact that by the end of the six weeks, it hasn’t felt like a sacrifice for at least 2 weeks. Give up sugar in my coffee (that I don’t drink, but we’ll use it as an example) I can’t take sugar in my coffee EVER AGAIN afterward. And so it goes because I feel like I’m not giving up enough and not truly experiencing a repentant moment. And thus the reason I like adding a spiritual exercise in because when it’s all over, I have this new grace to go along with my new spiritual outlook. Or something like that.
And then, there’s what to give up. Beer and chocolate, SO overdone. And lately, so is social media, although for many it is still a worthy and noble sacrifice. As are the first two. And many moms I know are pregnant or breastfeeding so they will go with something like no sugar in the tea or something, something smaller because they need the calories and being pregnant and/or breastfeeding is difficult too. I’ve changed what I’ve given up half-way during Lent because suddenly I’ve realized there was a bigger sacrifice that needed to be made right.this.second. And some years I’ve felt like Jen Fulwiler’s husband Joe did last year:
And usually it wasn’t really something so big or dramatic but hey, it felt that way in the moment. And there are years when a family member is in the hospital or there is job loss or some major catastrophe where all the sudden you take a breath and think, “wait? What? wasn’t I supposed to be giving something up?” It happens. We’re human, we get distracted. And then there is always the danger of making an idol out of our sacrifice.
So, yeah Lent is hard. It’s hard to give stuff up. It’s hard to sustain the momentum through six weeks. It’s hard to be polite about refusing something you gave up from someone who is not Catholic or just doesn’t get it. And maybe some of us NEED it to be hard and need to complain little to get through it. Because we’re human. And we need to fail sometimes. We need to be reminded as Peter was in Matthew 18 of just how sinful we really are.
So, sigh, I’m not a Lent person…I’m just not. But it’s coming whether I am mentally prepared or not. Whether I want it or not because I need it. All of it.