The Lentiest Lent

I saw a picture of a church on Facebook.  Outside the church, the message board read, “Had Not Planned On Giving Up Quite This Much For Lent.”  Ain’t that the truth? Since the world closed up shop in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it does seem like this Lent is laying the whole fasting thing on a bit thick.  No restaurants.  No amusement parks.  No shopping malls.  No live performances. No group activities.  No vacations. No hugs.  And I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone giving up buying toilet paper and disinfectant wipes for lent before. This has to be the lentiest lent that ever lent.

Some people say that this pandemic is an omen.  They believe the contagion is God’s judgment on a wicked world. They see our current times as the end of times.  Maybe they are right.  It is hard not to feel some sense of doom in this time of disease and quarantine.  The television and internet feeds us, minute-by-minute, on the number of new cases and the number of dead.  The curve is growing, not flattening.  This is to be expected in the short term, as we test more potential victims.  There has not been time yet for people who were initially infected to get well, so the curve is still climbing.  Even though this analysis makes sense, it is easy to get caught up in a Doomsday feeling.  For those of us who believe that God is all-powerful, it can be an easy logical leap to conclude that God caused the pandemic. 

I don’t put any limits on God.  It is possible that there is something to the Doomsday theory. I don’t really think God works like that, though.  I don’t think He caused the pandemic to eliminate evil and destroy the wicked.  I do think, however, that He uses the pandemic to help transform us into the people He wants us to be. Now that we are forced to fast from many of our favorite leisure activities, we have more time to spend in prayer, Scripture-reading, and thoughtful consideration of our life’s purpose and goals. Now that we must forgo human touch, communal church services, receiving the Eucharist, and sharing a meal, we may not take these blessings for granted in the future.  Now that the most fun thing we do all week long is zip through the Starbuck’s drive-through (while trying not to breathe), we will be more grateful for those trips to Disney and other more exciting places.  Now that we cannot meet with people face-to-face, we are developing our community-building and care-taking skills in more creative ways. 

I am one of those people who do tend to get stir crazy and bored when I stay at home for more than a day or two.  Weirdly, I am neither right now.  I’ve been productive in my weeks of isolation.  I’ve overcome some of my social anxiety tics and am staying connected with people.  Some of my relationships are even growing richer and closer.  I’ve focused my pent-up energy on projects like figuring out a system for conference call and video meetings.  I’m writing more.  I’ve tackled a few big chores that I have been deferring for months.  I’m thinking more than reacting.  My mind is not as busy or bustling, but I am thinking clearer. I’ve spent more time with God.  I’m working on several prayer projects- praying deliberately and intensely for certain people multiple times a day. 

So, while I did not intend to give up so much for Lent, I think God is using my enforced mega-fast to do exactly what Lent is supposed to do.  He allows me to partner with Him to cleanse, grow, and ripen my soul.  I delight in the paths He shows me during this time.  I am trying to follow them because I believe that God has a purpose for each of us and that purpose is unique to each of us.  I’ve tried to find that purpose all my life, in every job and relationship I’ve had.  The trail hasn’t always been as clearly marked as it is this Lent.  Still, I believe God is teaching me in everything I do, so I try to be patient and trust.  As the Bible says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

This coronavirus lent has been good for my spiritual development. Still, like everyone else, I look forward to the day when it is over.  I am excited to face a resurrection of activities and contacts.  The sun will shine brighter, and our emotional muscles will be able to take a little rest.  We will be able to mourn the losses we sustain, but we’ll also be able to move towards healing in a different way- perhaps with more kindness and care-taking of each other.  All this time we’ve spent in isolation prepares us for that day.

But let’s not forget that we have a more immediate, even more beautiful Resurrection to celebrate. We’ve spent the last forty days preparing to rejoice anew that Christ is risen. Sunday is Easter, the most triumphant day in the Christian year.  God will remind us again that what we thought we had lost is not lost at all… in fact, it is more brilliant and more wonderful than we can possibly understand.  Jesus- through His life, suffering, and death- brought us back to at-one-ment with God.  Because of Him, we are God’s adopted children.  We are part of a loving, connected, holy family which can never be destroyed. We are never in isolation or quarantine when we follow the risen Lord! 

What has lent been like for you this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis?  Do you feel that you have transformed in some way, as we approach Easter?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Happy Resurrection!

Terri/Dorry 😊

The Scenic Route To Easter

Years ago, I used to give up chocolate for Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as Valentine’s Day. I ask you: is it reasonable to not eat chocolate on Valentine’s Day? I am glad I reconsidered my approach to Lent a long time ago.

The idea behind Lent is to engage in some form of sacrifice to enrich our souls and deepen our faith. It is a time for us to spiritually prepare ourselves to better celebrate Easter. Lent reminds us of Jesus’ forty days of hardship and temptation in the desert when he strengthened himself for His mission.

Growing up as a Catholic, I tended to observe Lent in two ways. I gave up some pleasurable activity (like eating chocolate) for forty days and I did not eat meat on Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I’m not sure that either ritual had much of a positive impact on my spiritual development or my ability to joyfully commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter.

First of all, avoiding meat on Fridays is not that tough to do. Let’s see…. I can’t eat meat, but I can eat lobster, shrimp, grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetarian pizza, and peanut butter. That doesn’t seem all that sacrificial to me, unless I have to eat all those things at one sitting. That might be pretty penitential, but I don’t think anyone advocates stuffing the body with a feast of nonmeat products as a means of spiritual enrichment.

As far as giving up something goes, I do think there is some intrinsic value in sacrificing something we enjoy as a spiritual exercise to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to remember that the greatest gift is salvation. I do tend to feel, though, that a sacrifice is more meaningful if it also generates a positive impact. I don’t think giving up chocolate had any impact on me at all except possibly to make me a teensy bit cranky. Maybe my sacrifice would have been more meaningful if I had saved the money I didn’t spend on chocolate ice cream and donated it to a food bank or something. Instead, I am ashamed to admit that I just spent the money on vanilla instead. I never thought about the second piece of the Lenten observance equation. I understood the “I’m going to give up” part but never addressed the “so I can do X” part.

A friend of mine is doing something this Lent that I think perfectly illustrates the point. She decided to give up television for Lent. It wasn’t that she gave up TV simply to make herself suffer. In fact, she says she is actually enjoying the break from television. In deciding on her Lenten observance, she didn’t focus on what she was losing. She focused on what she was gaining. She gave up television to give herself the time to read and study and pray. She believes that, in this period of focus and reflection, God is teaching her all kinds of valuable lessons.

I have not always been great at following through on Lenten observances that require me to do something overt rather than simply stop doing something. Some years, I tell myself that I am going to read a spiritual book or go to additional worship services or step out of my own internal world and mend relationships with others. Then, suddenly, Holy Week is upon me and I have done nothing out of the ordinary. Some years, though, I have found rich and beautiful observances that I still remember with gratitude. Last year, I began reading the entirety of the New Testament in order. One year, I subscribed to a program of daily Lenten emails and worked on implementing their challenges in my everyday life. A few years back, I wrote a letter to a different person every day during Lent to thank him or her for the richness he or she brought to my life. All of these Lenten “penitential” activities brought me more joy than I can describe.

This year, I didn’t give up anything. I continue to walk my way through the Bible. Last Advent, I started in on the chapters of the Old Testament and I expect I will be at that for some time to come. I am also working through a book about developing a deeper relationship with Jesus and journaling about how I see the author’s message impacting my life experience. I also gave a presentation at a church women’s’ group.

I struggle with wanting to contribute whatever talents I have to support the church and nurture the people of God, yet I am not confident that I have the talents necessary. I am an extremely introverted, shy person. The idea of giving a presentation of any kind is daunting. When I was working, I did a lot of teaching and presentations. I was a popular speaker. People were kind to me. I enjoyed the activity, even though I was always very nervous beforehand. Soon after I finished a successful presentation, I was always consumed with the certainty that the success was a “one off” event that I would never be able to replicate in the future. In addition to my general insecurity about speaking to a group, I have only been to a few of these women’s group presentations in the past. I was not completely certain of what my audience would want or expect from me.

As the day of the presentation got closer, I felt the anxiety level in my gut increase. All the preparation I had done felt inadequate and I felt confused about how to proceed. I had several, ill-formed ideas for the general approach I could take to present the information I had gathered. In speaking to a friend, she suggested that I ask God how to proceed. We agreed that I should try to relax and let the Holy Spirit take over my anxiety about the presentation. I followed her advice and, of course, everything went fine.

I said that I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year. I guess I actually did. I gave up anxiety about the presentation. I gave up the feeling of stagnant comfort when I agreed to be the speaker for the women’s program rather than simply a member of the audience. I gave up a small amount of time and frenetic energy to focus on reflection each evening.

My experience this Lent has not been a journey through a desolate desert. Instead, Jesus has taken me on the scenic route to Easter and I am enjoying a beautiful view!

What do you think?  Do you give up anything for Lent or do anything special?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a meaningful day!

Terri 🙂

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT COMING NEXT WEEK!!!! PLEASE TUNE IN NEXT WEDNESDAY FOR SOME BIG NEWS!!!

The Path To Easter

Someone I know once said that people should be careful what they wish for when they pray for faith.  Sometimes, God just gives them faith.  Sometimes, He sends challenges to help them develop their faith muscles.  Sometimes, He puts them in situations to show them just how much faith they already have. In short, at least two out of three of those options tend to be uncomfortable.

Last Lent, I felt like I was on a pretty good path of spiritual development. I felt like I had been spending years lazily luxuriating in a big, soft Catholic feather bed.  I had been comfortable for a long time, but had not really done anything to grow or focus my faith.  When I retired, I began investing more time and energy into spiritual development.   I was participating in a program called “Best Lent Ever” and it kind of was. Every day, the administrators of the program sent me an email with a video message, Scripture readings, reflection questions, and suggested activities.  I opened my heart and my mind.  I felt like I was learning a lot. I journaled about the program’s reflections every day.  Sometimes, I even posted comments on the program’s discussion boards.  In short, I felt like I really took last Lent as an opportunity to deepen my commitment and understanding.

This Lent, not so much.  The church I have been attending has offered Lenten activities, but I haven’t been able to summon the energy to attend.  I started going to Sunday school a few months ago, but have missed several sessions lately.  I even missed the service a few weeks ago when I messed up on the whole “springing ahead” thing.  In general, I feel like I’ve just kept stumbling over my feet this Lent without making any spiritual progress.

Some of you might point out that my stumbling has not been confined to spiritual progress. You would be correct. Since my mother’s stroke and the ensuing chaos in my external and internal life, I’ve been fairly lacking in competency in any arena.  I sort of stumble through everything now.  And maybe that is really more in keeping with the spirit of Lent than my activities with the “Best Lent Ever” program.

I think maybe God puts us in whatever desert He thinks we need for Lent.  Last year, I was just starting to re-examine the depth and maturity of my faith.  Maybe God wanted to tempt me to continue by providing me exactly what makes me comfortable- orderly growth and tidy spiritual development.

But no one gets to Easter without going through Calvary. This Lent, I think perhaps God is using the sad path I am navigating to grow and develop my spirituality.  It isn’t orderly or tidy.  It is certainly not comfortable.  But it seems to be my Calvary. I try to accept His will and offer up my pain for love.

I’m not equating my struggles in any way with those of Jesus at the Crucifixion.  In fact, I am clear on the fact that no one will ever have to endure the complete pain and emptiness that Jesus experienced on His Calvary, simply because He did experience it.  He endured it exactly so we would never have to.  And, truly, the challenges I’m experiencing are nothing when compared to those that many other people battle.  Still, I don’t think God minds too much when I complain and cry over my difficulties…. Especially when it is to Him I cry.

This Easter, I will rise above my difficulties and celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.  I will try to rejoice that, just as I share Calvary in my very small, weak way, I will one day also share in the Resurrection.

Have you done anything special to prepare for Easter this year?  How has it been working for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂