In this post I want to take a brief look at the season of Lent and five ways we can allow it to point us towards deeper spiritual growth. For many of us, we regard Lent as a glorified diet plan with a dash of God thrown in. We give up chocolate or soda (or Facebook) and hope a mild act of penitence will suffice for clearing our soul of attachment to things of little importance. What could be a beautiful time of sweeping out the muck of our lives to make room for more of those “light, and love, and awe” moments that we seem to perpetually long for is transformed into nothing more than a Christianized version of Weight Watchers draped in violet. Friends, I want to tell you that it can be so much more than this. To help nudge us a little farther down the path towards Easter Sunday, I offer you five tips to help make this Lent the most impactful yet.
Tip 1: Forgive them.
As my generation is quick to quip, ‘life is short’, y’all. If we go around feeling bitter and jaded all the time, what kind of life are we giving ourselves? Oftentimes, when we feel that someone has intentionally offended us, what has really happened is that we have projected our own fears onto the other person’s seemingly benign words or actions. They most likely have no idea that they have caused us pain. And as we stew in our anger, it is not the other person who suffers- it’s us. So my tip for you this Lent is this: forgive them. Let it go, and release your hurt. Life is too short to spend it feeling like a year old prune.
Tip 2: Forgive yourself.
In the same vein of thought as tip 1, y’all, we have got to stop walking around feeling bad about ourselves! We are humans, we are complex, and Lord help if we are not the messiest of God’s creatures. It is completely normal that we are going to screw up- even the Psalmist wrote that God “remembers we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). Sometimes though, even though a choice we have made is not necessarily wrong, we can still experience regret. The awesome overseas job you turned down to look after your aging parents, the abortion you had 6 years ago so you could finish university, the one-night stand that gave you HIV along with a momentary respite from your sadness, all of these regrets, dear friends, God asks us to lay down this Lent. Forgive your past, forgive your hurt, forgive yourself.
Tip 3: Leave that last bite alone.
While this could be construed as hopping on the weight-loss through Jesus trend, I think the simple practice of fasting from the last bite of food on your plate can be a powerful reminder for us of just how little we actually need to survive as humans. I received this tip several years ago while a member of the Catholic student union at my university. The way it was explained to me was that, for many of us, food has become an opportunity for extravagance and waste. Instead of taking what we need, we serve ourselves what we want in the moment, often at the expense of others who have less access to resources than we do. The message of Lent, of this time of spiritual pruning, is for us to embrace simplicity. Consciously leaving a spoonful of food on our plate reminds us to focus more on what we actually need rather than on what we presently want.
Tip 4: Talk it out.
One of the issues that I have with most of American Christianity is that there is little room for folks to candidly discuss their questions. I remember how well-meaning loved ones quoted Bible passages and quaint platitudes like “God can heal you if you’ll let him” when I was coming out. I heard about conversion therapy and the gift of celibacy, about fighting same sex attraction (SSA) and my intrinsically disordered sexuality. Yet not until I found the Episcopal and Lutheran student ministry at my university did I actually encounter a place where I could posit my questions without receiving canned responses that only drove me further from the Church. This Lent, I encourage you to share your questions and doubts honestly with folks who will listen to understand rather than to respond. It is through sharing our doubts and fears earnestly that we can arrive at the answers we need.
Tip 5: Plant some seeds.
By planting seeds, I do not mean sending checks to televangelists. Rather, I mean putting literal seeds into dirt, adding water and watching spring awaken dormant life. While not a traditional Lenten practice, going into nature and participating in the great work of bringing life back to the world is a beautiful way to connect with the message of Easter more deeply this year. As we journey through Lent, we must bear in mind that we are like those hardened seeds, each so full of potential yet inert. We wear our hardened shells of ego and pride like armor without ever realizing that it is this exact armor which must be destroyed for us to sprout up from the warming ground. As Jesus rose up from the Earth, so must we rise above who we have been. Get out there and breathe some fresh air, plant some herbs or flowers, and see what pops up. Life is full of possibilities.
So these have been five tips to help you make your Lenten journey more meaningful as we work on airing out the dusty, dark parts of our life. Leave a comment below with your thoughts on these tips, and I invite you to share your own. If you have enjoyed this post, also check out this post from last Lent where I discuss one of the more interesting aspects of the liturgical season.
Until next time!