Lent for Legalists: Two Helpful Tips for a Less Miserable Lent

As scatter brained and flakey as I am, there are a few things I am anal retentive about. One of which is,when I decide to do something, I am going to do it full-force and I am going to do it right. (The issue normally is getting me to commit to something, but that is perhaps another blog.) So Lent for me tends to take this tone.

The questionnaireIf I commit to a calendar I am going to do it thoroughly, no matter what. If I am going to have a daily practice and I miss a day, I will make it up somehow. In fact, if I know I am supposed to be doing something I will often stress about it until it is done.

This was true of my practice last weekend. I was supposed to shovel a drive way. But I live in Oklahoma. So I wanted to figure out something to do instead. I thought and stressed and worried all day about how I was going to do this and if it was the right thing.

In past years, I have often gone the entire season simply doing the tasks that were in front of me.

So if you are like me, and Lent has or will be experienced this way, I have a word of advice.

This is a pretty miserable way to do Lent.

My goal this year is to stop worrying about accomplishing the tasks, and actually see what is behind them.

It is not about shoveling a driveway. It is about putting effort into doing something for someone else. Lent wants to teach me how to do this. I can shovel a driveway every day if I want. But it will do absolutely no good for my heart or who I am, until I understand WHY I am shoveling a driveway.

So for all my fellow legalists, as you engage in Lent this year, I have two tips for the remaining 33 days.

1. Every day, ask: Why?

And ask this question with all the obnoxiousness of a toddler. Because in my experience, Lent without a why is just going through the motions.

Why am I fasting? What is not eating or drinking coffee going to teach me?

Why am I spending time with an elderly person? How is this helping me die to myself?

Why do I take a day off each week? What does a Sabbath day in the midst of an intense fast do for me?

These are the kinds of questions we need for Lent. A discipline on its own does not do much good. But a discipline with purpose is truly transformative.

2. Give yourself permission to fail.

If you miss a day, miss a day. The point is not to check a box off your task list, the point is to train your heart. Failure is part of what Lent wants to teach us.

Lent is a recognition of our failures.  And it is a discipline teaching us to move forward. Lent is not a checklist, it is a process.

Missing a day and not trying to make it up is a mini-experience of grace. We understand our failure is in the past. Rather than trying to do penance or feel guilty, we leave it in the past and we press on to the next right thing.

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