LENT – A WIDOW’S PERSPECTIVE
I did not grow up in a liturgical church, but I have attended an Anglican church for about 8 or 9 years now, so I am no longer unfamiliar with the concept of the church calendar. I love most everything about the rhythms of the calendar, the regular scripture readings, and the liturgical seasons. However, once again, I am finding myself unable to participate in Lent in any way that resembles those around me.
It isn’t that I think Lent is necessarily right or wrong. I know for many it is their favorite season. This isn’t a defense of my not participating, because I have never been made to feel like it was something I needed to do, but I’m sharing my thoughts for others who might feel condemned or judged for not participating. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of participating in Lent, fasting, or praying. I’m just trying to extend the grace I’ve experienced.
I’m not sure what it is with me and Lent, but every year I approach it with an open heart and open mind, and each year I feel so strongly that I need to keep my focus elsewhere. Every year, I expect I will better understand why people appreciate it so much and every year I just don’t understand.
It’s not the focus on darkness that I’m avoiding. I absolutely love Advent. Advent is the time we sit in darkness, waiting for the light of Christmas. I totally relate to Advent. It always feels so right. This world is dark. We are waiting for light. We wait with hope. I love Advent and it helps me understand the Brightness of Christmas.
The first year I felt most strongly about not participating in Lent was the year my husband was killed, June 1, 2016. He was killed shortly after Easter. I remember being so grateful that right before a real wilderness season, we were not living in a fake wilderness season. We lived the months that were to be his last, to the fullest, even though of course, we did not know his death was imminent.
During today’s Ash Wednesday Service, I had three thoughts about Lent and all of them had to do with relation between what I understand is the purpose of Lent and widowhood, but they would apply to others who are in a wilderness period.
- I don’t feel the need to create an artificial 40-day wilderness period. I’ve been in the wilderness of grief for nearly three years now. I do believe in the importance of fasting and prayer. I think it is the motivation of deprivation to create a wilderness experience that does not resonate with me. This is a dark, dark world. I see this not only as a widow, but also as a human trafficking prosecutor. For me, Advent recognizes the actual darkness, where Lent seems to try to create additional artificial darkness as if you needed to not have sweets to see that the world is broken.
- The second thought was very similar, though maybe it reveals a little more blunt anger in my life. To quote the voice in my head, “Fine. I’ll give up something big for Lent. I’ll give up having my husband and helper with me on earth.” I’ll participate this way, but there is no way I’m waiting til Sunday to remember the good news of Easter.
- The third thought was more related to Ash Wednesday, but it also revealed that in this season of life, I’m just not where everyone else is. Not everyone minds being told they are going to die. For some people, when they make a cross of ash on your forehead and remind you that your body will return to ash, you gut reaction is, “Thank heavens.” I’m sure if I were raised in a more liturgical church I would have muttered the more proper, “Thanks be to God,” but I couldn’t help from sighing, “Thank heavens.”
Last night, I was unexpectedly struck by a tsunami wave of grief and as I lay there and tried to calm my breath enough to sleep, I finally understood the phrase, “just a breath away.” That last breath keeps me from being reunited with Shah, but that same breath keeps me here with Zoya.
So have a blessed Lent, whether you are fulling participating, or following God in another direction. I’ll be here continuing to fight distractions that threaten to steal the treasure by dulling the pain, but striving to keep my eyes focused on the hope of resurrection and redemption.