Struggling to Find My Way into Lent

Lent used to be my favorite liturgical season. Six weeks to clear out space, to turn in God’s direction, to remember our mortality—all that reflection and silence, the invitation to embrace the darkness of long winter nights here in the Midwest, with the promise of resurrection off in the distance. What’s not to love for an introverted Enneagram 4? Discovering the depth of the rhythms of the church year helped me find new life when I needed to break free from the constrictions of a fundamentalist faith.

But this year, I can’t seem to see beyond the dust. My spirit is weary, my practices slipping into worn Lenten grooves.

Esau McCaulley writes about the pitfalls of being an adult convert to Lent in Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal, describing the temptation to use it as a “sanctified excuse to get into shape,” that eager desire to “do it right,” and the twisting of fasting into performance — “Look how much I’m sacrificing for Jesus!”

I’ve succumbed to those temptations. I’ve given up dessert because I secretly wanted to lose weight. I’ve halfheartedly given up TV, then made excuses to cling to habits of numbing out in front of screens. I’ve refused to take a Sabbath pause on Sundays, slipping back into legalistic habits. How susceptible I am to performative faith when I “do” Lent.

So these days I’m seeking a spirit of renewal. I need to be restored in the presence of the Spirit. I need reconciliation with God. I need to rediscover my true self as formed by the loving Creator.

Reading My Grandmother’s Hands a few years ago invited me to attend to my embodied self in new ways. Resmaa Menakem wrote, “We Americans have an opportunity—and an obligation—to recognize the trauma embedded in our bodies; to accept and metabolize the clean pain of healing; and to move through and out of our trauma. This will enable us to mend our hearts and bodies—and to grow up.” He helped me recognize how disconnected I tend to be from my physical body, how I regularly carry tightness in my chest without noticing, how seldom I stop to breathe deeply.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy calls us to remember that we came from dust and so we will return. We remember that we are not just souls or spirits, but embodied beings, who will die. Admitting that—and admitting that it scares me—means sitting with my corporeal self. It means somehow embracing the back pain that doesn’t go away, the sagging skin, the graying hair. It means feeling the dust settle in my joints.

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote recently, “All the forgiveness and mercy and reconciliation of God is already yours.…Even if you are still trying to get over, even if you’re not ready, even if you truly have turned a corner and started to become the woman God intended you to be, even if you have never felt well-loved, even if you can’t forgive yourself. Even if you have never really told the whole truth. Even if you aren’t interested in it. All the love and mercy of God is running toward you.”

And then she says, “The DJ has been hired and the dancing begun and the feast prepared before you even walked in this door.”

A friend keeps inviting me to go salsa dancing with her—even when I tell her I don’t dance. But maybe Jesus is inviting me to dance this Lent.

The word I chose to embrace in 2023 is delight. It’s aspirational—not where I tend to live. Instead of letting weariness press down on me or anxiety about my adult kids overwhelm me, I’m asking God to help me discover delight. So I am seeking glimmers of joy in my son’s creativity. In the smile of my friend’s baby. In a rare, sunny February day. Even in the mess of my broken, weary self.

I don’t think I’m ready to salsa. But maybe this Lent I can clear out space to fully delight in God’s presence, wherever I encounter it. Maybe I can meet God in letting go.

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