My Whole Life is Lent
This Year I'm Giving Up Guilt
For most of my formative years, I didn’t observe Lent. I was raised in a tradition that eschewed rituals and formal observances. The idea was that if something was worth giving up for 40 days, it was worth giving up forever. Which made all of life feel like it was always Lent, but never Easter.
In my 20’s, when I was single, my life already felt like a fast from the deep intimacy of marriage and family. Yet, in many ways, it was a time of feasting. I was free to enjoy free time, sleep, and to fill up on Saturday drinks and Sunday brunches with friends. The hole in my life where I felt a partner and children should be, made it feel like it was always Lent, but never Easter. So, when I observed Lent back then, rather than fasting, I embraced new spiritual practices like lengthy and dedicated times of prayer and contemplation.
And then I got married and became a mother. The free time and mental capacity I had suddenly had to be budgeted. The baby is asleep, so you’d better shower while you can. The baby is awake, but occupying himself with some toys, you’d better handle the work emails or calls before he demands milk or attention. Then there are the complicated logistics of a walk, requiring an analysis of the amount of time before the next nap or feeding, whether you could tack on a trip to the grocery store and, if so, what do you NEED to get before a potential meltdown. Then you need to pack snacks, diapers, wipes, hats, blankets, etc.
All of that doesn’t even touch on whether you are functioning on just a few hours of sleep. Or the work you need to do for your career. Or the work you need to do for your marriage. Or the work you need to do for your friendships. Or what happens when your kid gets sick or grows a new tooth or is having a bad day or all of the above. The cliché about moms and wine and/or coffee is real. Parenthood is always Lent with little glimpses of Easter here and there.
I’m contemplating this #LentLife today because I know from conversations I’ve had with other Christian parents that the guilt over not carving out space for Bible reading and prayer feels like one more weight around our necks. But the God of the Bible who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving sin, wickedness, and rebellion” is not a merciless jerk, cackling as we frantically search the side of the road for the shoe our kid kicked off AGAIN, thinking “well, they’d be more centered right now if they had just gotten up to pray to Me at 5am.”
Jesus was able to go away to the wilderness for 40 days because he was a single man. He could fast because he didn’t have to feed anyone with his body (yet). He could get away because he didn’t have to provide a stable home for a family. I’m not saying that Jesus had it easier than parents. I’m saying that Jesus needed to seek out conditions of deprivation in order to fill up on God. Those conditions are just endemic to parenthood.
Parents don’t need to give up the few pleasures we have in life to remind us we need God, though you’re welcome to do it if you feel you should. We have children who are potty training and didn’t make it to the toilet in time, to remind us of that. Parents don’t need to set an alarm at 5am so they can get time with God, when our baby wakes us up for a bleary-eyed feeding and we fervently pray “please have mercy and help them go back to sleep.” Parents don’t need extra spiritual practices to be reminded to pray without ceasing, not when there are bullies at school, tantrums at home, or sleep regressions at night.
So, this Lent, I’m giving up guilt. I’m going to drink my morning coffee and afternoon decaf and thank God for the tiny reminder of grace. I’m going to eat my chocolate while I watch TV in the hour of free time I have before I need to go to sleep and praise God for mercy. I’m going to nurse my kid at 5am and then go back to sleep, thanking God that both the feeding and the work of salvation is finished. And when I search for that stupid shoe on the side of the road again, I will thank God that while it might feel like it’s always Lent, it’s also still always Easter.