We’re smack in the middle of Lent, y’all:
That feared-but-blessed 40 days of fasting undertaken by the Faithful before we revel in the joyous, holy Feast of Feasts: Pascha [that's Orthodox Christian for Easter]. For those of us who observe Lent, the experience is varied. Some give up things they love or have dependence on: chocolate, booze, and social media come to mind. Some choose to add-in rather than take-out, and incorporate good habits- like exercise and meditation-into their daily routines. For Christians following older traditions, there are prescribed fasts (see: Orthodoxy, Catholicism).
One thing rings true about Lent no matter your tradition: it’s hard. We live in a “whatever makes you feel good” culture of consumption and instant gratification. Saying “no” is looked on with suspicion, especially when it comes to denying my own wants and impulses.
Not only is it hard for me to keep my body in-tune with Lent, my perspective is often skewed as well. If I’m being honest, I tend to interpret “how Lent is going” one of two ways:
Fail-centric: I can’t believe I ate that cheese cube! And then the other cheese cube! Why didn’t I do better?! And how many times did I forget to pray today? Probably like a thousand. Boy, am I terrible at Lent!
Fast-centric: Looks like I made it through another week of eating nothing but chickpeas, black beans and almond milk. I would love to join you for dinner, but it’s God’s will that I eat yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich, seasoned with tears. Boy, am I great at Lent!
The problem is both of those thought patterns are are self-focused, with little attention being paid to God’s help, or the actual point of the fast. Not to mention they are the opposite approach to the one Christ tells his followers to take in the Gospel [essentially: if it's to make you look better or more pitiable, you're doing it wrong, Matthew 6:16-18]. I became frustrated with the emotional pendulum swing between my two approaches, so I took it to Confession. “I just don’t like Lent,” I said. “It’s hard, I don’t enjoy it, and I’m not very good at it.” Father turned to me and said quietly, “It’s not supposed to be easy. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re probably doing it right.
So Lent is not about whether or not I am winning the struggle to be righteous. It is about whether or not I am struggling to be righteous at all. If it’s difficult then I’m struggling. If I’m struggling, then I need God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. If I realize this and turn to God for that grace, I will receive it, which will bring me into closer communion with God. The point of Lent it’s not to be perfect, it’s to be in touch with imperfection. It’s not for everything to be easy and well done; it’s to continue to push through the difficulty in prayer and humility toward God and others.
If your Lent is hard, it’s real. If you’re failing, you’re doing it right. If you’re struggling, you’re receiving grace. Even the smallest step forward is one toward Pascha and the feast. So, hang in there. If you’re “not doing great at Lent”, keep up the good work. No matter what you’re giving up for Lent, just don’t give up.