On Lent and Going Deeper

As a late bloomer, this is the first year I’ve actively participated in the season of Lent. Before then, I simply knew that some of my friends would give up a vice — caffeine, sweets, and alcohol were the most common — for a tortuous 40 days.

“Why are they doing this?” I wondered. And yet, I didn’t ask because I was afraid of looking foolish or, worse yet, offending someone (after my cringe-worthy faux pas on a long-ago Ash Wednesday, my fear of offending was palpable).

I assumed the “giving up” was to evoke some kind of transformation. But I was confused when I saw people go right back to their vices when the Lenten season came to a close. What was transformed? I felt I was missing something.

(c) James Chan

(c) James Chan

Fortunately, I stumbled upon an eloquent article by the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America called Looking into the Mirror: A Lenten Reflection. Here, I learned that Lent is more about realigning our relationship with God than tackling a specific vice.

Sure, I could choose to deprive myself of a tangible item as a way of contemplating what I really needed versus what I simply wanted. But as a late bloomer, I felt I needed to go deeper.

The article explained that Lent entails reflection, repentance, and renewal. We must look into the mirror and face the demons that have been tormenting us and surrender them over to God.

And so — although I certainly could have used a 40-day hiatus from Oberweis ice cream — I opted to make a list of the events in my life that haunt me.

Things I’ve done. Things done to me. Things I’ve seen and participated in that I wish I could erase. Things in the past that still hold power over my sense of self-worth.

And then, I devoted myself to spending time each day praying about these things in the context of three forms of forgiveness.

I told God all about each thing that happened (even though He already knew, of course). Then, I repented for the role I played in each event and asked for forgiveness. I also prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me with forgiveness for the people who hurt me, and asked that they be blessed. Finally, I prayed for the capacity to forgive myself and to surrender over to God any guilt and shame I had been harboring within my heart.

It hasn’t been easy (there’s a reason we avoid facing our demons; it’s painful) — and I’m not done yet. But it has been truly transformative. I feel closer to God than ever before, and the stunning gift of salvation through Christ has renewed my sense of purpose.

I have nothing against giving up a specific vice for Lent, and I may try that some day. But for me, a bit of God-searching helped me realize that this year, the real vice I needed to let go of was the past.