And here we are, at the commencement of Lent once again.
I know that Lent — a period of time where we remember Christ’s suffering and join him in it, a season framed by sacrifice — isn’t a stretch of forty days that most people look forward to with joyful anticipation. And yet, year after year, by the time Ash Wednesday rolls around, I find myself feeling ready for Lent.
This year is no different.
I am ready to examine my conscience and repent the ways that I have failed my God and my neighbors in the past twelve months. I feel eager to grow deeper in my relationship to God through more focused time and energy spent on prayer. I feel in need of the spiritual discipline that I never quite achieve in any way but through fasting. My heart, mind, and soul need this Lenten season.
One of my favorite Lenten poems that I return to every year is the Lenten Litany of Fasting and Feasting, written by William Arthur Ward. Inspired by Ward’s words, this year I’m entering Lent with the intention to fast from — to let go of — a few mindsets and ideas that are not serving me in my relationship with God and other humans.
Here are three things I’m letting go of this Lent:
My need to have a plan for everything.
I’m a planner by nature, and it’s a characteristic that typically serves me and my family well. I love coordinating friend and family gatherings that nurture our connections with others, planning trips and outings that will be fun in the moment and provide lasting memories, and filling our home with meaningful moments as we celebrate cherished holidays and rituals. I also like to keep my personal schedule organized and full, enabling me to use my gifts to serve others through my work, prepare for future career opportunities, and make the most of my weekly hours. But my need to plan, plan, plan sometimes gets the better of me, and I have noticed recently that preparing for future moments sometimes prohibits my presence in the current one. I want to steward my family and personal calendar well, but without losing sight of the sacredness of the unplanned, everyday moments. It’s a difficult balance to strike.
This lent, I’m letting go of my need always be thinking of the next five steps ahead. I’m not tossing my trusty calendar, or refusing to make future plans with friends, but I’m loosening my grip on controlling the particularities of my time. I’m leaving room for the Holy Spirit to move.
My desire for peace-of-mind, all the time.
Sometimes I imagine that it must feel to God like my prayer life is rather, I don’t know, redundant? I’m mostly joking, as I truly think I could pray all day, every day, about the same thing, and God would just be delighted by the perpetual connection. So let me rephrase: sometimes I feel like my prayer life is a broken record, where I have a hard time broadening my focus because I’m so intent on thanking God for my family, asking God for safety, health and goodness for my daughters, and begging for peace-of-mind in all things. None of these are bad things to pray for, and if I’m being completely honest with you, I have no plans to halt these expressions to God. But I have been thinking about that last one, my prayers for peace-of-mind, recently.
While praying for peace is certainly understandable and objectively good (I can’t help but think of Jesus telling his disciples: “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you”), I had the thought a few days ago that maybe we aren’t meant to experience peace-of-mind all the time. Sure, peace is a wonderful thing, but do we have something to gain from a restless heart at moments? I think so. Sometimes feeling unsettled provides information about our desires and decisions. Sometimes feeling an absence of peace can help motivate us to make important changes in our lives. Sometimes feeling frightened or anxious forces us to turn to God in a way that we might not have otherwise. And sometimes, part of being human is just sitting with the difficult parts of being human, including absence of peace. I doubt that Jesus had peace-of-mind as he hung on the cross crying out to God.
With that in mind, this Lent, I’m letting go of my relentless pursuit of peace; instead I’m asking God for help listening within and learning from my restlessness.
My propensity to take everything so personallyOne of the lines from the William Arthur Ward litany that most stands out to me is “Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.” Now, I would not typically use the word hostile to describe myself (and I don’t think my friends and family members would, either)…but I wouldn’t describe the workings of my inner and outer self as non-resistant, either. Indeed, I often find myself reacting harshly to the words and actions of others, even if only in my head. Someone sends me a curt email, or behaves rudely in the grocery stores, and my interior monologue goes ballistic.
This Lent, I’d like to let go of that overreactive, frustrated, easily offended interior monologue, and I’d like to fill the space left behind with prayer.