I’m a lent latecomer, full disclosure. I knew people who practiced lent growing up, but my tradition didn’t. I only came to appreciate lent – the season leading up to Good Friday and Easter in the Church calendar – in recent years.
I especially value the practice of fasting that accompanies lent. I have found it meaningful to intentionally refrain from certain things in order to make space to reflect on Jesus’ death and my own mortality. Through the years I’ve given up red meat, pop, Twitter and even wearing jewelry for lent. I learned a lot each time.
But this year, I laughed at the idea of giving up something for lent. I joked to my husband: “For lent this year, I’m giving up going to parties and eating in restaurants and social gatherings!” For most of us, it feels like we’ve had a year-long lent. We have given up a lot, and we are still in a season of letting things go. “What else could we possibly deny ourselves?” is a question you may join me in asking. We’ve had nearly a year of missing out on many things that bring us joy and, quite frankly, if you need chocolate to get you through the next six weeks, I say: Go for it. Jesus will understand, I promise.
When lent started yesterday, it was cold and snowy. Technically, we had just moved into the “Red Zone” in our city so some stuff is opening up. But at the same time every news story was yelling at us about a third wave and how we should still stay home. Vaccines have been a debacle. And I think we all know that we’ve got a lot more than six weeks of covid-lent-like conditions ahead of us.
In a grumpy moment, I said to a friend: “This year for lent, I’m giving up hope.”
That’s how I felt. I was tired of hoping that “the end is in sight.” I was tired of hoping that things would “be better soon.” I was tired of saying “we got this!” Most days, I do not have this. Most days, all I can think about is how much I just want to go to my friend’s house and sit on her couch and let our kids play. I ache for those simple pleasures to return.
Of course, I was joking when I said I would give up hope. I love Jesus, so I’m in the hope business. And I do have hope for the future – not just a future beyond covid, but a future that extends into eternity.
But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I may have hit on what I need to give up this year for lent when I made that statement: “This year, I’m giving up hope.”
Lent is a time that reminds us of our limitations. It is a time to be present to the sorrow in the world. It is time to name the reality of death and our own fallibility.
For a year I’ve been talking about when things “get back to normal.” For a year I’ve looked to “when the bubbles start” or “when the pools open” or “when we can sing in a church.” For a year, I have longed and waited. For a year, my hope has been in what will come.
But I think that for this lent, I can let go of that hope for a while. Not because I am hopeless. But because, for now, I can sit with my limitations. I can let the sorrow of this last year, and this very day, be what it is. I can say “This is hard.” I can say “I lament this.” I can say “I wish things were different.” I can let those things be true without adding “But when things get back to normal…..” I can let the hurt be real without adding “But the vaccine is coming!” I can grieve for the deaths and the sickness and the lost jobs and the strained relationships and the way the whole world feels a little less safe without telling myself I need to cheer up.
This may be the lentiest lent that ever lented for me – the lent where there has been so much to give up that I feel I can’t give up anything else – except my desire to skip to resurrection.
This year during lent I’m going to eat chocolate. And drink pop. And go on Twitter. But I am not avoiding lent. I’m making space for the darkness, before the light comes again.