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How do you enter Lent after we’ve endured so much suffering?
It’s Ash Wednesday. The beginning of our journey toward death and the cross. We begin the process of dying to what we need to die to, letting go of the things that we’ve collected. We break the log jam up in our life to allow the water to flow once again. We look to disrupt the homeostasis of our lives and allow the Spirit to show up again. But what do we do when our lives have already been so disrupted? What if our social position already disrupts us? How does a Ukrainian enter Lent when their life is already hell? For the last few Lenten seasons, it has felt like we’ve been in a Lent every day, so entering into the season intentionally seems redundant, or too symbolic. We’re already in a sea of suffering, captivity, and death. How do we use Lent today?
Because of how challenging the pandemic has been, even the most well-off have felt what it is like to live life like an oppressed person. The pandemic oppressed and disabled many of us. And for the first time, rather than needing to manufacture our pain, during Lent, we simply have an opportunity to feel it.
For the oppressed, and that is many of us (and many of us became acquainted with our oppression during the pandemic), intentionally suffering to break through how we are spiritually stuck, feels unnecessary. The oppressed are already broken, their tears already flow, they already have a vacancy that God can fill. They don’t need to self-empty because they are already emptied. Lent is permission for us to let go of how we cope and face the pain in our own life. That is an invitation for all of us. We can feel all of our pain during the season because we know that hope awaits us. We can enter into our suffering because we know that glory follows.
So if you feel down-trodden, tired, worn out, fatigued, during this season, enter into all of your pain. You have permission and you will experience solidarity as all of us self-empty alongside you and become aware of our pain and our struggle.
In many ways, Jesus’ life on earth was his own Lenten journey. He entered into human frailty to feel our pain with us and to show us his own solidarity with us. He entered into our suffering and pain to express love and commitment to us. Jesus suffered and he calls his own disciples to do the same.
Right after Peter names Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus predicts his death and calls us to follow in his way, to drink of his cup, to carry our own cross:
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27)
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him, to sacrifice our lives instead of trying to save them. Our world tells us to save our lives, to collect what we can, to try to gain the whole world. The way of the cross is one of self-denial in order to eventually be rewarded with Glory.
Lent offers meaning to our suffering, even if it shouldn’t encourage or add to our suffering. Lent is not a time to not advocate for ourselves as we face abuse or oppression – its purpose is not to cause us to incur more suffering, but rather, to allow us to simply feel our pain, our grief, our loss. We can consider how we’ve furthered our own suffering through our sin, but also how the sins of others have affected us too. We are broken, and sometimes we break people, too. Let's enter into our brokenness, and how we've been hurt this season, and see if that doesn't inform how we've also contributed to others’ pain.
Jesus’ call during Lent is for us to enter into our existing pain. Sometimes that means we need to remove the things from numbing our pain. Maybe change what we do with our bodies: we get rid of the nightcap, the CBD, the chocolate bar, or that delicious MSG-laden Dorito. Maybe we let go of what is in our mind and put it into our body; maybe we wake up early, journal more, pray longer. Maybe we get into our bodies more: take a yoga class, go for a walk, check the weather even. We practice things that help us feel and experience the vacancy that is already in us.
If we are oppressed, we become conscious of what our abusers have done to us, how white supremacy has deformed us, how ableism has made us less human, how sexism has objectified us, how homophobia has dehumanized us. Lent gives us a chance to feel our woundedness, and allow Jesus to enter into our woundedness and pain.
For many of us, we don’t need to add pain to our life, we don’t need to manufacture it. Lent is simply an opportunity to feel what is already there and to await liberation. Sundays during this season are a reminder of such liberation. Take a break from your fast on those “little Easters,” as you await resurrection. Don’t be afraid to fully feel your pain , we are doing it together, feeling it together. We need to let go of what saves us and create the space for our Lord to be our savior. Blessed Lent to you.