This is the first time in many years that I’ve actually thought about Lent before Lent began. Typically I would find myself sitting in church on Ash Wednesday (assuming I got there at all) listening to the annual scriptural admonition to not draw attention to oneself through outwardly pious actions but rather to find humble and quiet ways to deepen ones relationship with God during the following six weeks. Anyway, there I would sit, struck by the fact (again) that I had given utterly no thought to how I would participate in Lent. No thought whatsoever to what kind of humble and quiet practice I would take on in order to deepen my faith and strengthen myself as a person.
This year is different. This year I’m thinking about it. This year I remember what an opportunity Lent can be and I’m ready to do something about it.
I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up in and to currently participate in a faith tradition that so strongly emphasizes the observance and disciplines of Lent. I’m not saying I’ve really enjoyed it as I have certainly made some uncomfortable choices in Lents past, the most uncomfortable of which has been to disregard the opportunity altogether on many occasions. There is something so fundamental and so visceral about being called to examine one’s life and make new choices about how to live that life using the model of a man who wandered the desert for forty-days being put to severe tests and ultimately confronting his destiny.
Please know that I am not writing of Lent in order to be inclusive (you guys have GOT to try this!) or exclusive (this post is reserved for Anglo and Roman Catholic believers who are ACTIVELY practicing their faith. All others need not read.) Rather, I am sharing my experience of Lent because I feel very lucky to have an annual reminder that six weeks of intention, six weeks of a very challenging willingness to set aside the well-worn patterns of daily life in favor of new opportunities, brings with it the possibility of making a lasting change.
There’s a bundle of different theories on how long it takes to make and solidify real change. I’ve heard about 21-day disciplines and 28-day approaches and they may be perfectly serviceable ways to get it done. For me, however, 40 days is just right. It’s short enough that I can actually wrap my head around it: “OK, in just six short weeks I’ll be on the other side of this AND I’ll get to wear my new Easter tie and eat a LOT of chocolate.” And, it’s just long enough to feel like a significant challenge: “Forty days? Really? I have to do this for forty days?!?!?” (whimper, whimper, whine, whine…see how it easy it is to forget about the guy who wandered in the desert? Or about anyone who’s actually had to deal with a reality slightly more challenging than giving up sweets or booze for six weeks?)
I’m going to use those 40 days in a new way this time around. First of all, it’s always felt more meaningful and powerful for me to “take on something new” rather than to “give something up” so that will be my focus. As for what I will specifically do, well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure. I know it has something to do with quieting down, centering, meditating, praying or some kind of reflective practice. How that’s going to unfold, I just can’t say.
But, hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ve got a couple more days to figure it out.
See you on the other side.