By Kit Carlson
When Lent comes around, it is tempting to think of it as a season of self-improvement, as a chance to lose weight, or stop smoking, or ease up on a treasured habit that is not so helpful, really. Give up one or more of those “bad” things, we think, and we will become better people. So in much the same way that we make a New Year’s resolution, we boldly enter Lent committed to give up caffeine or alcohol or chocolate for six weeks … or, as with most resolutions, until our willpower fails and we give in to the temptation.
Lent, however, is not about resolutions. It is about making a “rule” in the same way that monastics follow a Rule of Life. A Rule orders one’s desires and attentions away from the self and toward God, not so that we might be better people, but so that we might draw closer to God. Fasting has been a part of this practice for millennia, not to get us slimmer or more fit, but so that we might experience emptiness and our need of God. Spiritual reading has been part of this practice as well — again, not to make us wiser or more intelligent, but to open our hearts and minds to God. Prayer has also been part of a Rule — not so that we can check off our Spirituality Box each day, but so that we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Rest and refreshment have also been part of a Rule, to remind us that even God knows how to take a break (and surely we cannot be more busy and more important than God).
As I enter Lent this year, I am trying to not just make a resolution. Rather, I hope to make a Rule. I have been asking myself: what is lacking in my relationship with God? Or: how am I failing to honor myself as the person God created me to be? Or: what practice would make me more mindful of the presence of God? Or: what is standing in the way of my being able to love God and love my neighbor?
These are hard questions, and as I have started asking them, my inability to answer them has astounded me. So I have decided that just asking these questions every day for six weeks is going to be my Lenten Rule. Just to ask, day after day, and see what answers emerge.
I think this will be far more challenging for me than just giving up chocolate. I may not end up doing anything that is better for myself spiritually or physically or emotionally, but I may come up with a direction that leads me not just through the annual season of self-denial, but into a deeper and more authentic relationship with God.
The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and was associate and interim rector at the Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg, Md., for seven years.