I bet you didn’t expect to give up this much for Lent this year — like going to work, seeing your friends, or even going outside. It’s been a very strange season. There’s a lot missing from regular life, more than we’re probably comfortable with. Whether or not you practice Lent normally, it’s surprisingly applicable in this tumultuous time. I’ve been considering some ways to approach this new normal that can help me center on God rather than the things I currently don’t have.
A shrinking world
In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself asking, “Do I even want to give anything else up for Lent, after so much has been taken away?” I watched as more and more things started vanishing from my life — a play that I wanted to attend was cancelled, then the ski resorts were closed, and eventually my workplace was shut down as we all moved to work remotely. Now my world consists of a small basement apartment with occasional walks around the neighborhood.
We’re facing a difficult season. It feels like so much has been taken away, and that can be scary and frustrating. We’re so used to being in control of our lives, our time, and our freedom, and having that stripped away is not comfortable.
Lent isn’t supposed to be easy
When I first started drawing comparisons between the coronavirus situation and Lent, I reached out to Jeremy Favreau from P2C-Étudiants. He wrote a series on Lent a few years ago which you can read here. I wanted to learn more about the heart behind Lent, and I was inspired and challenged by Jeremy’s insights. I came into our discussion with the general assumption that Lent meant giving something up. This would be something that I’m better off without, but something that wouldn’t devastate my life by its loss. Jeremy explained that it goes a lot deeper than that.
In some ways, we’re better situated to face Lent now as we face the difficulties of this season. Life isn’t easy right now. But giving up something ‘easy’ is just that, easy. It won’t make any real change in our lives. Jeremy says that we have to find the problems, the things that are preventing us from connecting with God, and reduce or remove them from our lives. In our current situation, these first steps of Lent are already done. We’ve given a number of things up. The part that I’m struggling with is that I didn’t get to choose what those things are.
Now that I better understand the heart behind Lent, it’s given me a lot to think about during this time of self-isolation. I’ve realized that I really value my independence. I like being able to choose my activities and make plans that I can look forward to. This season has become an opportunity for me to ask myself if I’ve put independence too high in my own life, and to consider how I can willfully align my heart to something I might not have chosen for myself.
When I shared this with Jeremy, he suggested I take a look inwards. “Maybe this is a time to confess to God how much we ask Him to bless what we want — our endeavours, our ideas, our ambitions — and actually just say, ‘Lord teach me to be a disciple who can actually agree to not be in charge of everything.’”
This isn’t easy. I like making my own choices, my own plans, my own goals. But that’s probably why this self-realization is important and worthwhile to explore during Lent. I don’t necessarily feel that my independence is a bad thing — it’s part of how God made me after all — but this is a perfect time to dive in and examine my heart.
How to respond
Unlike regular Lent, where everyone can individually identify and remove whatever they struggle with, we’re all facing similar losses. We didn’t choose this, but it happened anyway, and now we have the opportunity to respond.
The most important thing to remember is that God is looking at the heart. With my new abundance of free time, I’m going to spend more of it in meditation with Him. I don’t know what I’ll learn or if I’ll have any sort of epiphany, but I’m going to be intentional about bringing my heart to the Lord. When I find myself frustrated or sad because of this situation, I’m going to bring it to God. When I find myself struggling to submit and longing to have something firm to stand on, I’ll turn to God.
And I don’t have to learn this perfectly overnight. As Jeremy points out, whatever we practice during Lent, the goal is to keep going deeper. “The hope is that by practicing over 40 days, we’ll be actually able to go deep enough that it touches those places where real change can happen.”
I’m hopeful that by the end of this coronavirus season, whenever that is, I’ll have a deeper understanding of myself and my relationship with God, and have learned that whatever difficulties come, to keep my focus on Him.