The surprising thing about Lent
How are you doing? Really?
Yosemite National Park. (Photo by Melanie Kent)
How’s the journey so far, Lenten pilgrim? Is Lent, and the practices you’ve chosen in this season, clearing the cobwebs? Spring cleaning your soul?
We’re about a third of the way from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Those of you who gave up coffee or diet Coke might feel a little less headachy by now, as the caffeine withdrawals fade. Or it may seem like you’ve been at this for.ever.and.ever. and you don’t appreciate my pointing out that Easter is still four and a half weeks away.
Or maybe Lent, or certainly fasting, isn’t even on your radar. That’s okay.
For me, Lent (a time of fasting from what tempts us) is a temptation in itself—my task-focused self tends to see this season as one where I am allowed to make up rules and earn something by keeping them. Where I can (even though I know this is bad theology) pretend that my giving up of something will impress God. This, to paraphrase Scripture, is not the kind of fasting God has chosen.
It’s so easy for me to elude the grasp of grace, run to a performance plan, one where I hustle, earn, strive, achieve. I’m a girl who gets things done.
Knowing my tendency toward over-achieving (or attempting to achieve), I kind of wandered into Lent this year. I tried to pay attention to my desires, not to quash them, but to lean into them. My deepest longing (one that goes deeper, beyond that for coffee or the glass of wine I sip while cooking dinner) was for a comfortable intimacy with God. A deeper connection. Since finishing my latest book manuscript, I’ve continued to think about how we find that intimacy.
(photo from stocksnap.io)
To keep legalism at bay, I didn’t really intend to give up anything—instead just focused on being intentional about starting each morning with a little time of quiet, of breathing, of prayerful listening. Rather than subtract caffeine, I decided to add an early morning stillness (which I enjoy while sipping my essential cup of coffee).
This felt essential and good. Since the beginning of the year, my life has surprisingly become rather busy. Work, volunteering, visiting refugees—I’m doing a lot. I’m finally finding my stride, really, in this empty nest season. It now longer throws me—and I’m leaning into the freedom of it. I’ve said yes to things that I wouldn’t have when my kids were home, because it would have taken me away from time with them.
So, that means a lot of time in my car. Driving to and from all the things I’ve said yes to. One day, I was in my car, punching radio buttons trying to find something to listen to, and finally, I just turned off the radio in disgust.
And friend, can I tell you? It was, for just a moment, silent. In such a good way. Like my morning practice, circling back around for a check-in. And in the quiet, I heard an invitation, whispering—keep the radio off. Practice silence in the car. For the rest of Lent.
photo from stocksnap.
The surprising thing about this spiritual practice of silence, this “fasting” from noise? Once I got past the initial jittery feeling of driving without a soundtrack, my rushing became, well, less rushed. Oh, there are plenty of times I jump in the car and reach for the radio or start to pull up a playlist on my phone. And then stop. Sometimes drum my fingers on the steering wheel, because some other song from somewhere is stuck in my head and I want to drown it out with something else. Or some thought or worry is stuck in my head and I want to drown that out too.
And that intimacy? The kind where you can just be with a person without having to talk? The kind where God says, “tell me about that” and then waits, quietly. I’m slowly realizing that intimacy is found in the silence—on the other side of discomfort and wanting to crank the tunes or change the station every two minutes. When my car is quiet, I’m oddly patient with other drivers, I’m strangely aware of the stark beauty of the winter scenery flowing past as I drive. The practice of silence is creating some space. I pray a lot, in that silence. Fasting from noise in my car is an invitation to intimacy. It has made my car a God Space. And even though I teach and write a lot about practices including fasting and silence, I was surprised by the power of silence.
How’s your fast going, if you’re engaging in that? Is whatever you’ve given up creating more space in your life? More God Space? How is fasting affecting your relationships—with those close to you, and even with the world?
Giving up coffee or chocolate doesn’t impress God, but it can make us more mindful of God. It can remind us to pray, remind us of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But I wonder if there is something more available.
I’ve decided to add one more practice in Lent. To read through Isaiah 58, slowly and thoughtfully, over and over. If you’re fasting from anything (chocolate, swearing, wine, whatever), it might be that motive-tester you’ve been looking for. Here’s the heart of it:
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
(read all of Isaiah 58 here)
I’d love to hear your thoughts, friends. Please leave a comment or hop over to Facebook with questions, comments or just to say hi.