As I began to write this blog, I struggled to find what I would “give up” for Lent. How does one prepare for Lent when they are already intermittent fasting for health, gave up sugar and drink decaf coffee?! Maybe wine but we rarely drink the cheap stuff, so that already limits our consumption. After practicing this season for many years now, I am running out of ideas. Scouring my soul to find any sort of vice that I could lay down for a season feels rehearsed and lackluster. I’ve had seasons of Lent that felt like battles. During those times, I fully suited up and fought the enemy who wanted to lock up my soul in apathy and self-indulgence. There have been other seasons saturated in peace where I felt a comfort in the stripping away of things, and I welcomed the simplicity. This year I feel torn between the newness and sameness of Lent. Each year it feels different because I am different, for better or for worse. Yet it is the constant I can rely on to bring me back to the present.
From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.
The ashes. The prayers. The confessions. Every year the same Lent is approached by a different self. And the question I find most difficult to answer this year, is what self am I bringing to Lent? Honestly, I would love to bring my 2020-self because she was far more prepared than my 2021-self. I’d also love to bring my 2017-self, who battled through a season without TV and won. But I can’t bring any of those, I can only bring me, and the 2021-self is exhausted from a full year of social distancing, masks and barely seeing friends or family. After a year of house arrest, the current me’s faith has slipped into the realm of casual. So much so that the formality of Lent feels like a shock to my quarantine attired-self of leggings and large amounts of dry-shampoo.
As a writer, I have to confess that I hate it when other writers use definitions in their writing, I think it’s a lazy filler so this is a blow to my ego but defining the word casual might be the self-examination tool my soul needs right now.
Everyday wear hit me right in the self-examination hot spot. As I enter into this Lent season my faith feels like everyday wear; It’s comfortable but it doesn’t require a ton from me. Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. I wish I could give up unrealistic expectations for Lent but I’d end up taking a sleeping pill for 40 days and wake up on Easter morning to make that happen. Perhaps another culprit could be the fact I wear only leggings and joggers these days but joking aside, when I consider what I would give up for Lent I find myself leaning toward giving up casual prayer. The small “Hey Lord, thanks for the grub” prayer before dinners, and the comfortable, well-worn spot on the couch where I enjoy my coffee to pray, and the non-existent prayers before I sleep.
I have grown so comfortable in my casual approach to conversations with God that I am abundantly aware that my knees are soft as is my prayer life.
But now that I am aware, how does one even begin to give up casual prayer?! Sugar would be easier. At least it’s a substance I can control outside myself that creates the usual internal Lenten-struggle. But this internal struggle is begging to be born outside myself. Even now as I write this blog, I didn’t kneel for prayer this morning. I still enjoyed my comfortable spot on the couch to practice Centering Prayer which ended up becoming a tennis match in my brain for 7 minutes.
I believe posturing prayer is what is missing and what I need for my heart to pay attention. I need the formal this season. I need the incense and the standing and the prostrating and the walking. I need the uncomfortable to wake me up from my casual slumber. I have been asleep too long that I haven’t been able to notice those around me who need a friend, a wife, a family member who prays. Who prays with them and for them.
I remember a time in college when my heart was shattered into a million pieces by the ending of a relationship. The relationship itself was quite unhealthy and so the ending was good though it didn’t feel that way at the time. There was a tiny chapel in the middle of my college campus where I spent most of my mornings prostrate between the pews consumed by pain. Many believed me to be “super spiritual” but I was just trying to mend my broken heart. Either way, I spent hours in prayer postures because I needed to. My heart needed healing. I needed to hear God’s voice. I needed to confess and petition and intercede and give thanks. And I did. I did receive healing. I did hear God’s voice. It was as if my prayers were more powerful the lower my body was to the ground. But not because I cracked some secret spiritual formula but because when I began to listen with my body, I enabled my heart to listen as well.
The casualty of my current prayer life feels like trying to listen to God under the rushing waters of the Willamette River and I’m tired of trying to decipher it’s gurgled code. My 2021-self knows what she must do and the formal consistency of Lent knows it too. I also know that this season will be a bit strange. Fasting from casual prayer sounds unusual and impossible to measure. To some this may sound like a cop out on traditional fasting but Lent doesn’t have any rigid rules except you can pause your fasting on Sundays.
Perhaps my knees may need a break but I doubt it.
Let’s talk Lent!
What are you giving up for Lent and why? Post below in the comments!
P.S. My husband and I are giving up “double screens” for Lent together. Yep! You heard me correctly. DOUBLE SCREENS. Which means we cannot play on our phones while we are watching a show together. We either have to turn the show off to do our scrolling/games or watch the show. Wish us luck!