It was the day after Ash Wednesday, and I still didn’t know what to give up for Lent. I sat down with a spiritual director and, as I answered her initial inquiry of “How is it with your soul?” (or something equally lovely and tender), a list of stressors started spilling forth from my mouth:
“I’m a grad student,” I said, “concentrating in pastoral care. I have midterms and papers and appointments and relationships and anxiety. I’m taking classes on death, grief, trauma, disability, mental illness, injustice…and I love it, but God. I serve a little each week as an online crisis counselor. I serve at the church. There was a school shooting in Florida yesterday! There was something else the day before and will be something else again tomorrow and… And now it’s Lent and I’m supposed to reflect more on death and sacrifice?!”
Yes, I’m supposed to reflect more on death and sacrifice.
“Yes, and…” as they say in improv classes.
“Yes, and,” the spiritual director said, “Lent isn’t just about death. It’s about a slow journey from death into life. Slow like watching the sun rise on the horizon.”
What would lead you into life? she asked.
We bandied about some ideas. Creativity (in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t exactly been posting much in the way of creative reflections here on the blog during grad school!). Community. Prayer. A cruise to the Caribbean?!
Rest, I decided.
Rest can be challenging to come by when you’re a grad student like me — and undoubtedly even more challenging when you’re a single mom or low-income worker or in plenty of other situations that I haven’t personally known. Yet I’m a strong believer that there’s ways, with some ingenuity sometimes, to integrate self-care into a busy life.
To resist the Euro-American idols of productivity, efficiency, industry, consumerism.
To care for one’s self — body, mind, and soul — because God made us and cares for us.
And I could go on.
Connections between self-care and Lent have been drawn for years, just in the past several years in articles by Amy Laura Hall (“On eating chocolate for Lent“), Candace Benbow (“For sisters with nothing left to give up for Lent“), and Rhonda Mawhood Lee (“Not giving up in Lent“) to name just a few.
I’ve certainly heard sound arguments against this, arguments that Lent is about self-sacrifice point-blank and that anything that could be construed as self-indulgence cannot fit under the category of self-sacrifice. For me, though, this Lent, it has been a veritable spiritual discipline to discern a slow journey from death into life. To shift some of my worried ways toward worship of God and trust in God.
Not gonna lie, my Lent this year has looked a lot like trying to use the massage chair in my university’s wellness center once a week, paint my nails once a week (to try to give up the nervous habit of picking at my nails and the skin around them), and feel a little less guilty about taking a nap or watching a TV show now and then. [Again, I recognize this is not exactly what Lent can look like for everyone. With discernment, this was simply one approach that was right and good for me at this time.]
And maybe my favorite part? Singing or humming just as often as I can the Taize chant that says “Bless the Lord my soul / and bless God’s holy name / Bless the Lord my soul / who leads me into life.”
Christians around the world will remember this week, Holy Week, the God who leads us through death and into life. Whatever your life and your Lent has been like lately, may you go with God on that journey and consider what, in your life, might lead you into life.