Keeping Lent

Suzanne Bowles, PhD

4 Lent  March 27, 2022   by Suzanne G. Bowles, Ph.D.

So, how is Lent working out for you?  We’re well into it now and I bet many of us – self included – have not had a perfect record whether we gave up something or added some activity.  A lot of people have the notion – and I did myself for years – that Lent is a “one and done” proposition.  In other words, if you indulged in something you had promised to give up or neglected to do something you promised you would do, then you were done.  There was no point resuming it because you had already failed once and that ruined it.  Like March Madness, one loss and you were out.  Put differently, the goal was perfection in this one thing throughout Lent.  One mistake or mishap put you out of the running so there was no point continuing. 

          Some friends in college, Roman Catholics, told me that Sundays didn’t count, so they could eat candy or drink beer, or whatever.  I had never heard that before, but it struck me as cheating.  A true Lent-keeper started on Ash Wednesday and went straight through till Easter.  No days off.  That is, until you gave in once and then gave up completely.    When I was a kid the big joke in my parish was that the rector every year would give up smoking for Lent, but by Ash Wednesday afternoon he had already lit up, and that was that.

  There is also, of course, the possibility – and it’s not impossible by any means – that you could actually keep the Lenten vow you made.  I did that myself on a number of occasions.  But I found that on Easter my main feeling was not closeness to Jesus but pride in my own will power.  Yes, I had done it and not even used the Sunday cheat option. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking so much about the Resurrection, but of that chocolate donut that I had so deservedly earned through my Lenten abstinence.  As soon as church was done I was heading to Dunkin Donuts.

          Now here’s the thing.  I didn’t really grasp this till not that many years ago.  Keeping a Lenten vow is not about perfection.  You shouldn’t be cavalier about it either.  It’s really about doing something that’s meaningful to you as a way of knowing Jesus better and drawing closer to Him.  It’s a way of saying that you’re going to journey to the Cross with Him, at least in a symbolic way.  But it does not require perfection.  That is not the goal.  The goal is to stay with Jesus.  He is so loving, merciful, and gracious that He actually helps us out.  It’s not “one and done.”  It’s “one and come back.”    Acknowledge your failure and come back.  Try again.  Jesus welcomes you back.  Even if you fail all 46 days, Sundays included.  Jesus recognizes that you’re trying but are weak.  That’s OK.  He welcomes us back over and over.  I don’t know about you, but that realization made Lent much more meaningful to me than just an exercise in will power.

Our reading from 2 Corinthians tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creations – “everything has become new.”  I’m sure many of you know the line from Lamentations 3: 22-23, “His mercies are new every morning.”  So it is with Lent.  Even if you never started Lent at all, but want to pick it up half-way, you can.  He welcomes you.  Our God is so merciful that He even accepts a last minute change of heart.  Think of the thief on the Cross with Jesus.  He only has hours, maybe minutes, to live. There’s nothing he can do to reform or live a better life, but he repents and Jesus welcomes him.  Or look at the Prodigal Son in today’s gospel.  He screws up very badly – way beyond eating chocolate or drinking beer – and those aren’t even sins.  But he goes home to his father, not asking any favors, but seeking minimal mercy.  Jesus gives us more than minimal.

          Don’t give up on Lent.  There’s still plenty of time.  Jesus welcomes you and values your effort, no matter how weak and hesitant it may seem to you, if you do it for Him.  Amen.