By Guest Blogger Matt Hoffman
For as long as I can remember, I have given up something for Lent each year. When I was younger, it was chocolate or caffeine. In college, I graduated to giving up snack foods and meat. Recently, the fad has been to “take on” some practice—maybe thirty minutes of meditation or prayer each day (if you are looking for a creative thing to take on, I had a friend who adopted the practice of never eating lunch or dinner alone during the entire 40 days). Such practices have been important for me during Lent because they have increased my awareness of God’s presence in my life.
This Lent has been different. Breaking with tradition, I decided that I would neither give up something, nor would I take on an additional practice this year. Indeed, the Lenten devotional book from my church is still sitting in my school bag, unopened. I am not sure if my decision was due to laziness or being “busy,” but to be honest, I just couldn’t bring myself to any sort of Lenten practice.
Reflecting on this decision, it has become apparent that my choice was not so much an act of rebellion but one of mature faith. When certain practices begin to feel like burdens, it is important to reflect on how these practices draw us closer to God. What is the reason for engaging in such a practice? Are we just going through the motions? Most importantly, it is necessary to extend ourselves some grace when it comes to spiritual practices.
Liturgically speaking, the Lenten season is a time to pray, fast, and repent for our sins. Mirroring Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (in Matthew, Mark, & Luke), this solemn season marks a time of introspection and closeness with God. In Lent, we have the opportunity to know Jesus as a fellow human, someone who experienced temptations and desires.
Facing the option of whether to engage with Lent this year, I simply chose to opt out. This does not mean that I am opting out of the season or the responsibility of reflecting on how I fall short of my potential and cause harm by my (in)action in the world. It simply means that there are times in our lives when we must learn to claim our spiritual agency. I do not believe that God is marking down on a large notebook whether we participated in each part of the human-created liturgical calendar. Moreover, God is not keeping tally of each time we forget to pray or decide that we cannot forgive someone right in the moment. God is not watching out for each piece of Lenten chocolate eaten or each 30-minute prayer session slept through. Instead, we must learn to extend a little bit more grace to ourselves.
The joy of grace is knowing that we do not have to be perfect. It is okay to ask for a “timeout.” Indeed, this time of the year can already be stressful enough with looming midterms exams, family vacations, Easter dinners, etc. So, if Lent this year is not your thing, give yourself some grace. God does not want you to be perfect. If you need a break, take one. I won’t tell.
So, if the doldrums of life/Lent have you down, remember that God’s grace abounds. Live fully into this grace knowing that no one is marking your progress on a clipboard this Lenten season. Take a break and love yourself.
For those of you who have added a practice or have given up something for Lent, I salute you. But, whatever you do, please give yourself a little grace in the process. And, if you decide that you need a break from Lent, I support that too.
At least there will be two of us who are not Lent-ing.