Am I Doing Lent Wrong?

I, personally, have had an interesting relationship with the Lent season. Lent is a 40-day period leading up to Easter (I know different traditions count the days and duration of Lent slightly differently, don’t @ me). Growing up, Lent was never really talked about or observed in my church, it was simply categorized as something that only Catholics did. As a result, I knew very little about it. When I was in college, a Christian group I was a part of made a big push during the Lent season. It was during these years that I fell in love with the idea of Lent. I am sure lots of factors went into my growing love of Lent. I am a person who loves creating artificial challenges for myself. I absolutely love those ‘can you survive for a week with only 2 dollars to feed yourself’ videos. Maybe it is the creativity required to excel at something like that that excites me. I think the fact that Lent coincides with spring plays a huge factor into my love of it. Spring is one of my favorite times of year (no not just because my birthday is in the beginning of April, but it does not hurt). Having the interpersonal journey of Lent start when the outside weather is cold, grey, and bleak and end with warm sunshine, chirping birds and beautiful spring blooms really helps to reframe my entire mental attitude toward myself and the world around me. Some of my first Lenten experiences happened on the beautiful University of Washington campus in Seattle. There is one special place on campus called ‘the quad’ that has some amazing Japanese Cherry blossom trees. Having Lent culminate with the stunning blooming of these trees is such a beautiful metaphor for the entire Lent and Easter seasons.

But I think I need to admit that I did Lent wrong for a long time. A common Lent practice is to give something up for Lent. The idea being that every time you crave that particular thing that you take that moment to think about Christ. I went all in on this practice. My first Lent I did a 40 day fast, where I did not eat from Sunrise to Sunset every day. I came to the end of it exhausted, frustrated, and in an emotionally unhealthy place. I was too hard on myself during that season. I told myself that if I failed in my Lent fast that God was going to be mad and disappointed in me. For this very reason, I know a good number of people dread Lent. They see it as a burden that they must shoulder every year in order to be a ‘good Christian.’ I think of Lent as a time of personal growth and a time of closeness to God. Those two things do not have to go hand in hand with being miserable or dreading these 40 days.

My own love of Lent did not really begin until I learned to practice grace with myself. I find it so fascinating that people are more ready to dole out grace and forgiveness to others than they are to themselves. I want people to enjoy and look forward to Lent as much as I do. But I know that will never happen if we put too much pressure on ourselves to turn into the perfect Christians during Lent. One way I found for me to do this is to no longer ‘give anything up’ for Lent. Instead my Lent tradition is to go out and find one or two great books on the Cross or on the Resurrection and read those. I guess you could say I am ‘giving up’ some time to read these books, but I much prefer the framing of adding something. Now, is this something I do every day? No! I get busy and might go a week without reading one of my Lent books. But that is OK. I know those books will be there when I get back to them. I have even had a few years when I did not finish my two books during the Lent season. I had to finish them up the week after Easter. That is just fine, the knowledge or wisdom or insights of these books is not restricted to a single 40-day window every year.

If you are someone who practices any kind of Lent fasting might I suggest added one more thing to your fasting list. I would encourage everyone to fast from self-deprecating thoughts during Lent.  Or if you want to spin it so you are adding something. I would encourage all of us to up the amount of grace we show ourselves over these 40 days. Use Lent as a time to grow and thrive not as a time that drains and haunts you.