Last Sunday, while the students and I were enjoying our Shrove Sunday breakfast for dinner extravaganza, we also talked about “giving something up for Lent,” and how unsatisfying it can be. We talked it around for a while, and it seems that many of us grew up being told to give something up with no real reason why. It’s just what you do for Lent. We were also never told what to do when we inevitably failed to give up chocolate or soda for those 40 long days. So having talked this through for a while, the students asked me what I was giving up and what I thought they should do for Lent. This is what I told them:
First, I’m giving up for Lent. A few months ago, it became clear to me that some of my spiritual practices weren’t working like they had been for the last decade and it was time for a change, but I’ve been stressing about it. So I’m giving up the anxiety and the worry and trusting that God will lead me to the practices I need to fulfill me when I need them.
Second, I’m taking something on. I’m taking on a new attitude. I’m going to seek to be more grateful during Lent, and I invited the students to try on a new attitude they want to work on during Lent. If it works, keep it; if not, let it go.
Which lead to my final point to them. When we fail at our Lenten discipline, when not if, we need to treat ourselves gently. There are plenty of serious sins and broken places in ourselves and in our world that need real attention. Forgetting to do our discipline once is not one of the major problems facing our world today. I like to acknowledge the fact that I’ve missed my discipline, hold it for a moment, and move on. It takes practice, but it is so freeing.
At the end of our conversation, I really understood what Pádraig Ó Tuama wrote in 2010 for the radio show On Being, “Lent is less for giving up, and more for making space.” (Read the whole piece here.) Ash Wednesday, and Lent in general, make space for us to let go of the extraneous anxieties, to have broken hearts bound up, to see the unseen around us, to hear God’s call on our lives again, to open our hearts to ourselves, our neighbors, and to God.
So I invite you to the observance of a Holy Lent. I invite you to the holy work of making space.