It is tempting to think that we have it hard. That our lives are particularly difficult. That is, the sense that life is not always fair and that no matter what we do things just do not seem to get any better. As well, in this season of Lent, for those who have entered into it intentionally and are, in fact, observing it by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial, then there is a real sense of difficulty and struggle. Life is not always easy and by adding an additional measure of self-sacrifice in our lives we feel doubly burdened. For now we are tempted to say, “Life is hard and difficult and on top of that I must engage in repentance, fasting and self-denial. When will Easter arrive so life can get back to normal?” Of course, life can be difficult and practicing spiritual disciplines is often a difficult challenge. But we must be careful, lest we find ourselves in a position similar to that of the Israelites in the desert where we are complaining.
My faith traditions do not include observing Lent, but during this season I have often thought this omission is my loss. This season of repentance and simplicity isn’t so foreign to good ol’ Protestantism as I used to think, and if I’m honest, it’s sheer inattention that’s kept me from “giving up something” for Lent. But there, I just confused the real meaning of this season in the Christian calendar with its trappings and trimmings. Lent isn’t about crowing our sacrifices of chocolate and caffeine, or even (gasp!) Facebook. The Lenten tradition points to quiet and thoughtful meditation, a refocusing on life. Then, when it bursts forth in abundance on Resurrection Sunday, we go forth full again — not of sugar or of brilliant insights into community living in the however many days we went offline. We’re full of life and meaning.
A friend of mine is fond of saying that Christians have as much of the Holy Spirit as we’ll ever have the moment we confess that Jesus is Lord. The question, as she puts it, is how much of us we give the Spirit. Lent seems like the perfect time to answer that question and weed out the distractions.
Ultimately, Lent offers us the chance not to give up, but to restore. The tradition is our time in the wilderness, with fewer distractions and more opportunities to trust. Why do so few of us take the chance to see hope materialize?
I know I missed Ash Wednesday. But it’s not Easter yet. Good.