Lent: Making Room for Joy
I have to admit I had a pretty bad attitude going into Lent this year. I was (and am) tired of being aware of my lack, need, and weakness. The Wilderness has been feeling particularly wild lately, the world has been particularly bleak, and even the lives of others (many of those closest to me in my community) have seemed heavier than usual too. I have been feeling worn out, stretched thin, and disheartened by situations that look and feel like they do not really have a solution. And Lent seemed like it would only compound these experiences.
I considered not giving anything up. I considered giving up something I would not really miss. I considered taking on a spiritual practice instead of giving something up. I even considered not observing Lent at all this year (giving up Lent for Lent). But it is a season and a habit that I have practiced for my entire adult life and every year I have learned something – about myself, about my community, about the world – and you know I can never turn down a learning or growing opportunity.
After taking some time to think and pray about it, I was reminded that I am making it all too complicated (as I usually do). Lent is about preparing for Easter. In different traditions at different times and even now it takes on new meanings and definitions of what it means to prepare for Easter but that is really essentially its purpose.
So I decided to spend this Lent focused on making room for joy. I wanted to take some time to evaluate what is actually bringing joy to my life and what I can let go of to make more space in my life for those things.
I gave up sugar and alcohol because those are the foods I turn to most often for quick happiness. A little sugar in the middle of the day – a little boost. A drink with a friend at the end of the day – an instant party. I want to keep enjoying those things and I do not intend to never eat sugar or become a teetotaler but I also do not want them to become a crutch or even a replacement for joy. I wanted to take a break from them and see if removing them would make space for something else.
I also decided to take on a couple habits during Lent. I resolved to write a little bit each day even if only 10 minutes. Writing is something that brings me a lot of joy but I do not often make enough time for. Especially when it is not writing that I am sharing or posting or publishing, it can seem frivolous. But I wanted to acknowledge that it is something that brings me very deep joy and even if for that reason alone, I should write.
A once a week hike is another thing I took on for Lent. I really enjoy hiking but I have not done a lot of it in the last several years. It is a time-intensive form of getting exercise but also one I really enjoy. I need a couple hours every week to just walk and look and think. It brings me much deeper joy than just the joy of being healthy. Also, I have been thinking, reading, and praying a lot about the spiritual metaphors of the Wilderness in the last year, and this seemed a symbolic way to cap off that year. (And the only thing I possibly like more than a learning/growing experience is a symbolic experience.)
At first I was going to hike alone but then I realized another thing I have been learning is how integral community is to spiritual growth and how personally important community is to me as well. So I invited others to join me and some did. And each time it was a different experience – both depending on the people who joined and also the terrain we decided to traverse. And there were new analogies and symbols that I saw in those experiences that I have enjoyed just as much as the beautiful vistas.
Easter is fast approaching but this week has reminded me over and over – through the pain and hurt and brokenness of our world, of those I love, and even myself – that we live in a Lenten world. A world that is trying so hard to prepare for joy and celebration and something better but living with daily heartbreak and disappointment. Taking this season to acknowledge our hurt, poverty, and lack while also actively making room for joy has been poignant and sometimes very difficult.
Hope is closely tied to joy and sometimes both seem so far off that I wonder if Easter will ever come. But it does. It comes again and again whether I am ready for it or not. But I want to be ready. I want to be able to recognize joy when it comes and for there to be space in my heart and soul to experience that joy as fully as I can. While also recognizing that sometimes joy comes in small experiences like hiking or writing as much as larger gifts like long awaited hopes fulfilled.