I’ve always had a bit of an uneasy relationship with Lent. Maybe it’s the weirdness of contemplating mortality on Ash Wednesday while walking around with dirt smeared across our foreheads. Maybe it’s the somber attitude of the season piled upon my already dreary snow-covered February spirit. Maybe it’s my notoriously harsh inner critic’s reaction to the season’s focus on lament and repentance. Maybe it’s because we live in a culture that doesn’t know what to do with grief and stillness and self-discipline. Maybe it’s got something to do with the social pressure to give up chocolate or social media or, heaven forbid, coffee. Maybe it’s the fact that Lent always seems to catch me by surprise before I have a chance to come up with the perfect Lenten discipline so that when people inevitably do suggest I give up chocolate or social media or my beloved coffee, I can wow them with the other super impressive, really creative Lenten practice I’ve picked up. (On a related note, be on the look-out for my next post, “Lenten Practices for Procrastinators.”) Most likely it’s a combination of all of the above.
Anyway, like it always does, Ash Wednesday rolled around again this week, ushering the church into the annual 40-day season of repentance and reflection and self-examination as we journey with Jesus toward the cross. And once again, I was left feeling unprepared and a bit flustered (and annoyed with myself for feeling unprepared and flustered when really Lent isn’t about me at all…it’s about, you know, Jesus. Which always then has implications for us and how we view ourselves and live in community with each other. But whatever. I digress. ) So, anyway, on Ash Wednesday my flustered self was feeling a little overwhelmed with my lack of Lenten preparedness as well and my quickly mounting pile of seminary homework and the overall weight of the world’s brokenness and was scrolling through Twitter (because that’s helpful) and I came across this gem from Kate Bowler, author and faculty member at Duke Divinity School.
And I breathed a giant sigh of relief.
Lent is a season for repentance, yes. It is a season for mourning all that is wrong with ourselves and with the world and the awful ways in which we treat each other and our planet. It is a season of contemplating our smallness and our mortality and our sinfulness. It is a season for the hard work of truth telling. It is a season that calls us back to be the new created beings God has called us to be in the midst of our imperfect, messy realities.
But it’s not a season for shame.
It’s not a season for comparing my sin and guilt and brokenness to yours.
It’s not a competition for holiness.
And it’s definitely not a diet program or a guide for healthy living.
Lent is a season of holy room-making, as we bring our whole, messy, broken, hurting, confused, flustered, imperfect, angry, devastated, anxious, quirky, angsty, and wholly loved selves into community with each other. (Which, if it wasn’t for Jesus, would be a holy recipe for disaster.) We call each other into repentance, yes. But first, we make room. Because, let’s be real, we are all a bunch of hot messes. And we need space to acknowledge our collective hot mess selves before we can enter into the work of repentance and reflection to which Lent calls us. And, spoiler alert: we will still probably be hot messes once Lent is over. But maybe we will be hot messes who are just a little bit kinder to each other. Because, I am convinced, that whether it is in the ashes smudged across our foreheads or the bread and wine of communion or our voices joined in song or the clunky awkward silence for self-reflection that we aren’t sure how to handle, God meets us there — whether or not we have deemed ourselves properly prepared.