For Lent I gave up trying to be a superhuman... but not right away
Per usual, Lent snuck up on me this year
Lent has the tendency to sneak up on me. I’m often cruising right along that early part of the year, off to a good start, when suddenly I run into Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season.
As a Christian, I appreciate the practice of fasting, but it’s fairly hard to do it properly when the invitation totally sneaks up on you. Something feels quite a bit off about fasting because of a last minute scramble to fast from something for the sake of obligation.
Like... oh, what? Is it Ash Wednesday?? Well, um... coffee! No wait, Facebook!
Yeah, mindless fasting seems to defeat the whole point.
This year was yet another one of those where the season of Lent totally caught me by surprise. Also, two events would’ve made fasting a bit more of a challenge-
One, I was training for a half-marathon and generally my food intake and grocery bills while training go way up. Like I need to budget ahead for how much more I tend to eat.
Two, I had a three-country trip planned for the latter part of Lent that included Italy, one of the most delicious places one could possibly go.
I decided not to give up something very concrete but I considered some other way to observe. Maybe I would slowly go chapter-by-chapter through one of Thomas Merton’s books. I downloaded a guided prayer podcast in case I wanted to go down that route.
As it turns out, God had quite a bit planned for me to go through during the next few weeks.
I imagined a contemplative Lent. I got chaos.
I made it about two chapters into Thomas Merton and three podcasts in when things in my life started to take a turn for the chaotic.
Deanna got sick in mid-February and that ended up throwing everything out of alignment. Normally when someone gets sick, they take some time off work, take the meds they need, get a little more sleep, and things are better. But this was the sickness that interfered with everything.
Without getting bogged down in details, scheduling doctors visits became a pain and that led to work schedules needing to be adjusted. This made several errands we needed to do, like registering our car while the DMV was open extremely difficult. Suddenly, there was no time for anything.
A work project I’d been overseeing for about a year also finally got a long anticipated green light. I wanted to be able to have it fully ready to go by the time I left on my trip, so I began pulling in extra hours- nights, weekends, all the stops.
When I say running a half marathon was the most relaxing thing I did within this window, I really don’t think I’m exaggerating.
That day was a good day, with not much else to worry about except getting to the next mile marker and finishing with permission to have a big burger and a nap.
The rest of this time was more anxiety inducing than anything I’ve experienced for quite some time. Sickness is worrisome, excessive work is stressful. Combining them isn’t a good experience.
When I think of the images Lent conjures up, I often think of sacred, still things. A hand thumbing through beads. Soft light entering a room through a line window. A happy bearded monk.
I don’t think of antibiotics and settling final details with our insurance guy up to the very last minute before my flight left LAX.
But maybe Lent is a little more like the latter.
We aren’t superhumans
On Easter Sunday, I arrived in Monterosso al Mare ready to have a good look around Cinque Terre. There was a good sized crowd thanks to the holiday, but the sun’s warmth as we started our hike added the feeling of lightness.
We spent the previous week in Siena, my old home base in Italy. Our time there was restful, and really needed after a long sprint.
My Lent began with a priest fixing a cross of ashes reminding me that from dust I come and to dust I shall return. In other words, I’m human. Mortal. Temporary.
Ironically, I spent the next few weeks after that trying to be superhuman and putting the world on my shoulders.
I tried to take on as much as I could around home to make Deanna’s life easier and recovery faster. I took on extra at work, trying to finish up Big Project before our trip. If you couldn’t tell by these actions, I have a pretty strong belief in my ability to get things done.
Sometimes that motivation is a good thing. Other times I need a reminder that I’m not the one in control.
Like when Deanna’s headed to the doctor and manages to get a flat on the way there. Or when I need a full working day to finish everything and I head outside to find my car missing. Or when I try to pray but it just turns into plain old venting.
Thankfully, I believe God gets frustration. And I sometimes need a reminder of that, like the one I got through the Examen podcast I started listening to. On one of the days I remembered to keep up with it, James Martin noted that feelings of being spiritually frustrated were ones Jesus experienced during his lifetime as well. We aren’t alone, whenever we feel that way. It was such a simple reminder, but it ended up being the one I needed to hear.
St. Seraphim instructs: “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Ironically, nothing ruins a spirit of peace like taking on the responsibility of saving a thousand souls. But what helps me regain that peace is remembering that I’m human. Most of life is out of my control. From dust I came and to dust I’ll go back.
Sometimes I try fasting in order to remember. Other times, God’s already written the script for what he’s wanting to teach me.