A Gentler Lent

A tall, branching tree against a gray sky

Almost exactly one year ago, an hour before our church’s Ash Wednesday service, Kyle and I sat across from two good friends (our pastor and his wife) at a local restaurant. We laughed about each other’s dinner choices. And we laughed about our pastor friend’s insistence that he was a “prepper” and they would be set to live in a bunker for a month until the pandemic passed. We laughed at the thought that we might need a month in a bunker. We placed bets on whether coronavirus “would even come here.”

It’s upsetting to be at the one-year anniversary of that conversation, of one of the last times Kyle and I ate in a restaurant, of one of our last in-person whole-congregation services. It feels unfair to be at Lent again when it also feels like last Lent forgot to end. I saw one reverend on Twitter share that she’d made stand-in ashes at home with water and purple eyeshadow, and I thought that was great, but also sad.

Maybe some of us haven’t taken the time to fully acknowledge how much we’ve lost in the last year. Routines, hobbies, experiences. Loved ones and strangers. I happen to know it’s hard to let yourself feel too much of that too often, even if you’re normally a pretty Lent-y person or a person who believes we owe it to each other to pay attention. There’s a sense that if you look too close at it all, it would be impossible to keep going, and even if it seems like life as we knew it ended last March, work continued, and family obligations continued, and the daily fact of waking up in the morning and having to fill the time continued.

I tend to forget how much of prayer is just being honest with God about what I’m feeling. I’m feeling exhausted trying to operate at 100% in the “business as usual” areas of my life when most days I am doing great to mentally get above about 65%. I’m feeling sad, so sad, sometimes it feels constant, about things we’ve lost and things my loved ones are going through and normal disappointments that can feel like just one thing too much. I’m feeling tired of memento mori! Tired of remembering that, as Kate Bowler says, “we are fragile, we are finite, we have almost nothing left to choose.” We know. We know.

I saw someone ask, given all that, how God can expect us to intentionally give more this season than has already been taken from us, what we could reasonably abstain from when so much of what sustains us is already absent. I want to suggest God does not expect that from us. More power to folks who feel up to doing some holy dieting or giving up TV (even more unthinkable to me this year than in years past), but if all we have to give is lament this year, I think that’s OK. If we don’t have the energy to do more than sit in the ashes and tell God how tired we are, I think that’s OK. Even if the ashes are made of dirt from the yard or purple eyeshadow. Low church, baby.

It’s also OK to not be up to a deep dive or intensive study or even committing to a short Instagram video every day during Lent (or five short Instagram videos in a row the day you remember and/or find time to catch up). But if you’re looking for something, here are some options from a few of my favorites:

If you have Lent resources to share, please do!

That’s all I’ve got. Wishing you rest.

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