I always dreaded Lent. “I’m more of an Advent person,” I’d tell you (as though forced to choose between the two purple seasons of the Church year). What I really dreaded was the question. You know — the one we’ve almost certainly asked or been asked umpteen times lately: What are you giving up for Lent?
My resistance was rooted in how I understood both the question and the season. Lent always struck me as a time of liturgical self-help. The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were things that I did. Really, they were things I usually failed to do.
Recently, my attitude has changed as the way I think about the season has evolved. Ironically, a big part of this change in me began with that most annoying internet phenomenon: the forwarded e-mail.
Last Ash Wednesday (2011), a friend forwarded something I didn’t automatically delete. The subject read: “For this day, and every day.” Inside, were several paragraphs from this reflection, posted over at Mockingbird. For over a year, these words have come back to me with surprising regularity:
Ash Wednesday, then, should be seen as standing guard over Lent, reminding us at its start of the core truth of Christianity: we must give up. We must give up not this or that habit or food or particular sin, but the entire project of self-justification, of making God’s love contingent on our own achievements. And the liturgy of this day goes right to the ultimate reality we struggle against, which is death itself. We are reminded […] that we will die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Give up! Give up, for you will not escape death.
For years, Lent was about me. It was about ‘proving myself’ before God. Trust me, that’s a losing game no matter who’s playing it. What Lent gives us is an opportunity for honesty about who we are, and who God is. And in this season, we do not “pretend to be anything other than the flawed human beings we are.” Amen!
There’s more here.