By the time Lent rolls around, no matter where it falls in the year, my (secular) New Year’s resolutions are usually only poignant memories. The weight I was planning to lose is still stubbornly sticking to me. The healthy food I was planning to cook is black mush in the fridge. Improvements in my personality are… still in progress, to say the least.
Humans screw up.
We dishonor our Creator by our behaviors toward others and ourselves. Our ugly, vengeful, sanctimonious thoughts and words add to the dark, nasty stains coloring our oh-so-imperfect beings. We wallow in regret and remorse, hoping stuttered apologies can repair the damage we have caused around and within us.
In short—we sin. There’s no getting away from that truth. No matter what our therapists tell us, how hard we work to improve our bodies, minds, and souls—we screw up, we fail, we are less than God made us to be.
Lent gives us a chance to reboot. It’s human nature to want to wipe the slate clean and to start over. A lot of us try that in the turn of the year from December to January. The Church gives us the season of Lent to work on it within the Body of Christ. Lent is not just about “giving something up.” It’s an opportunity for healing and growth.
Here are some suggestions for making the most of Lent:
Worship weekly. Sunday worship has, for many folks of any means at all, become one of several social options for a weekend’s schedule, rather than an offering to God of our time and attention. Make a commitment to worshipping with your faith community every Sunday in Lent, and on every one of the days of the Holy Week Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. If you work on Sundays and can’t change that, pick another day during the week and come to the evening Eucharist. Worshipping regularly is like going to the gym. It can be hard to get started, and sometimes motivation and energy can flag, but good things happen to us, often without our noticing.
Take advantage of sacramental reconciliation. This is not a substitute for therapy, or vice versa. Unlike the pop-in-and-pop-out, laundry-list “confession” those raised as former Roman Catholics may remember, the Prayer Book structures this as an opportunity for deep prayer and conversation about what Paul laments in Romans 7:15: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” Read the Rite as it is in the Book of Common Prayer on page 446, and if it moves you, do call one of the parish clergy. They are all happy to set aside some time for this sacramental rite.
Take Sabbath time. At the end of worship on Sunday or whatever day you can make work, stop. You’ve turned off your cellphone before worship—leave it off. Turn off the television, the computer, and put down the planner and folder full of notes and work. Just stop. Spend in-person time with your beloved, your friends, nature, a favorite museum. Take advantage of the parish Lenten retreat for a block of time of spiritual regeneration. Humans were not created to serve electronics, or be constantly enslaved to each other’s demands. Give yourself time to be open to stillness and to God.