Hello. My name is Heather. And I have a problem with Lent.
Before you sharpen your pencils to compose a blistering letter to our esteemed editor recounting my heresies, I humbly implore you to please hear me out.
I know all about the regulations and practices and have heard countless suggestions for having the BEST. LENT. EVERRR. I understand that the Church, in Her wisdom, provides us with this designated time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as an opportunity and a gift. As one who enjoys opportunities and gifts, I am totally on board. Goodness – I actually like Lent, in theory, and often in practice – especially when I can continue consuming bacon and gelato and social media. I’ll even go on record as being pro-Lent. And yet, I have struggled with discerning and maintaining my personal Lenten observances.
My theory is that my difficulty with Lent was rooted in a skewed notion of what the season is actually intended to accomplish. As an example, let’s look at my approach to fasting.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to give up just about everything – sweets, screens, sanity – you name it. And I think I knew, at least in the back of my mind, that I was sacrificing something I enjoyed to become closer to God. But I don’t think that half-praying, half-crying, “Dear God, when will it be Easter so I can eat chocolate/drink coffee/indulge myself?!” several times a day for 40 days straight is what our Lord had in mind.
I’ll never forget the year I began my ill-advised Lenten Jack LaLanne juice fast. When I say, “ill-advised,” I mean I came up with the epically stupid idea to give up eating solid food for 40 days all on my very own, thank you very much. Now, some sturdier souls may have been able to go the distance, downing frothy kale and cantaloupe concoctions for all 40 days. Not I. If memory serves, I lasted exactly 1.5 days before I came to my senses and realized I was providing my immediate family with a huge penance (the burden of “Cranky Mommy”) that none of them signed up for. I also realized that a fast is NOT a diet plan.
This year, I actually took time to prayerfully consider my Lenten fast. I realized that, somewhat miraculously, I’ve weaned myself from inordinate use of Facebook, which I’d given up (except for work) the past few years. Offering that up wouldn’t be sacrificial enough. Due to an overhaul in my diet last Fall, I don’t eat nearly as much junk or sweets as in Lenten days of yore, so giving up certain foods wouldn’t really work, either.
The one thing that kept coming to mind – the idea that most definitely didn’t come from my brain – was the snooze button on my alarm.
I am not a morning person by nature. Just ask my husband. And yet, these small beloved beings with no sense of my personal sleep needs kept arriving in our nursery and an unrelenting mothering schedule forced me to get up earlier and more frequently than should be legal. Over the years, one of the ways I’ve tricked myself into thinking I’m getting more sleep than I actually do is by setting my alarm 30 minutes early and hitting the snooze alarm. Sometimes I only hit it twice, and usually three times. But hardly ever four.
That still, small voice whispered to my soul: “Get up with that first alarm and spend some time with Me.”
And suddenly, just like that, I got it. I understood.
Relationship. That’s what He wants. It’s what He wanted all along! He’s waiting. He just wants me – to show up – to be all in. And it’s totally up to me to choose to meet Him every day. I realize now that anything that hinders or subordinates or detracts from my foundational relationship with Jesus Christ is fair game for tackling this Lent – even something as seemingly insignificant as a snooze alarm.
If you’re struggling with your Lenten observances, it’s never too late to reevaluate. Take a moment with the God Who loves you more than you can imagine and consider: Am I treating Lent like a 40-day Super Duper Self-Improvement Program? Am I giving alms, sacrificing, and saying extra prayers for the “Look at me! I’m holy!” factor? Am I mindlessly checking things off of a self-imposed list? Or have I taken the opportunity to really lean in to this Lenten season so I can nurture the ultimate gift of a close, loving relationship with Jesus Christ?
It’s up to you, and it’s up to me to lean in, my friend. For the love of God, let’s do this Lenten thing!
Hi. My name is Heather. And I used to have a problem with Lent.