It’s Lent. Again. Traditionally this has been one of my favorite times during the year. But after Lent never really seemed to end last year, I’m having a hard time this year with the reality that it’s Lent. Again.
A couple weeks ago, aware that Lent was just around the corner, I began thinking about what I would do this year. I began to notice an increase of resistance and even resentment as I pondered this question. Over the years I’ve learned that when I notice resistance in myself, it’s usually a sign that I need to pay attention to something. So, what’s going on here?
Our traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving feel heavy instead of hope-filled; a burden instead of an opportunity. In a variety of ways, chosen or unchosen these have been prominent features of life for the past year. Do I really need even more of it over these next 6 weeks? It’s already exhausting. I realized I needed to take a step back. Instead of wondering what I should do this year, I began to focus on a different question: What’s the point of Lent in the first place?
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). These words of Jesus which we hear at the beginning of Lent point us to what Lent is about: conversion. This season is a time for us to renew and deepen our relationship with Jesus. God is always the one taking the initiative in this process. God loves us, reaches out to us, invites us into relationship, and desires to heal what ails us and free us from what ensnares us. Our Lenten practices are intended to help us be more intentional about responding to God’s initiative. It is about opening ourselves up and making room for God’s grace to work in us and transform our lives.
I realized that this year I need to do Lent differently. I wanted to be intentional about making room in my life for God’s transformative grace. But it was also clear that I needed to give myself some flexibility within the commitment I was choosing to make. So I created this “menu” of Lenten practices:
- Take a walk: Whether one lap around the block or heading out for several miles, it’s an intentional time to step away from my computer, get out of my apartment, and pay attention to where God captures my attention along the journey
- Meditation: Taking time to sit silently with God and let God set the agenda
- Night Prayer: Participate in Pedro Rubalcava’s Facebook live in which he leads Night Prayer (from the Liturgy of the Hours) every night at 8:00
- Call someone: Call someone I know to see how they are doing and to ask them if there is something I can pray for them about
- Read a book: Spend some time reading either Pope Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, or Encounters with Silence by Karl Rahner
All the items on my Menu of Lenten Practices are rather simple. Each day I’m choosing one thing on the menu to do that day. If on some days I decide to do more than one, great! But my focus is to do just one. I’m choosing to trust that this has far more to do with God’s work than my work. If I’m intentional about clearing out just a little bit of space each day for God’s grace, that grace is more than sufficient to transform my life. After all, isn’t that the point of Lent in the first place?