Giving up Lent for Lent

“This year I’m giving up Lent for Lent.”

It sounds like a comedian’s joke, but I’ve heard it said by real ministers of the gospel (and not just by sneering “evangelicals” who don’t practice Lent anyway but want to score imaginary points against those who do).

Lent is supposed to be a time of self-reflection and spiritual renewal in the days before we pass through the horrors of Holy Week and celebrate the joy of Resurrection Sunday.

There’s nothing wrong with giving up something we enjoy (such as chocolate) during Lent. Self-denial is about learning the proper place of things that are good but not essential. We deny ourselves the joy of some good so that we can discover what is not only good but essential.

We can take it too far, of course, and focus on what we’re giving up rather than on what we’re gaining from the experience. And sometimes the whole exercise just feels like it’s too much to endure.

As we stagger out of our pandemic shelters and vaguely wonder if we can go maskless in this situation or that, Lent feels more like a weight holding us down than something that will raise us up. Would it be wrong to give it up this year?

This is the first spring in 30 years that I have not been in some sort of pastoral role during Lent. I don’t have to worry about worship planning or sermon preparation or most any kind of spiritual leadership. I am responsible for my own Lenten journey alone. No others will look to my example.

So my Lent has been disorganized, scattershot, probably not nearly as fruitful as it could have been. After having my forehead marked on Ash Wednesday, I have observed no special spiritual exercises – nothing beyond my ordinary habits of prayer, devotional reading and a bit of study if a question comes up.

I have done, basically, what I suspect most lay people in the church do every Lent. Maybe it’s enough for them. This year, I think it’s enough for me.

After only nine months of retirement from pastoral ministry, Linda and I are still struggling to get back into the habit of Sunday morning worship. We have ties to many churches, we want to renew relationships with people in them all, and getting around to them all takes time.

We also have a new grandson three hours or so away (and the remnants of a nasty cold he passed on the last time we visited; kid germs are toxic to adults). Some mornings, it’s just hard to get to church.

(Note to pastors: If you don’t understand how hard it is for many people to get out of bed on Sunday morning, your lack of understanding could be crippling your ministry.)

We’ll eventually get back into the habit of regular public worship. Next year, maybe I’ll observe a “proper” Lent, whatever that may be. This year I’m content to give up Lent for Lent.

Self-denial during Lent is about giving up something valuable to gain a better appreciation of something essential. Lent itself is valuable but not essential. Heartfelt worship and devotion to God are essential. I’m content to give up Lent now if that leads me toward greater worship and devotion.

May God bless your Lenten journey and fill your heart with joy on Easter!

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