Confession time: I have problems sticking with my Lenten fasts/disciplines.
I’m new-ish to personally practicing Lenten disciplines. Before becoming an Episcopalian, I kept Lent only haphazardly. I knew it was happening; I liked the minor music and the plainness of décor—the corporate aspects of the season—but so often it seemed that the friends I had who fasted from something for Lent treated it as a pious diet plan or holy opportunity for breaking bad habits (and then returning to them in celebration of Christ’s resurrection—yeehaw!).
Last spring: my first Lent as an Episcopalian. I got really into it. I was ambitious. I noticed I was filling silences a lot in my apartment (I live alone), so I decided to take out background noise. No television or movies (especially not while multitasking, as is so often my habit), no music playing while doing homework or cooking or jogging, no This American Life on the drive to Michigan for spring break. I would become comfortable with silence. I would also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Set. Super.
I think you know where this is going. I made it all the way till the weekend after Ash Wednesday without noise in my apartment. Then I went stir-crazy and binged on something like four hours of unmemorable, unedifying network shows. I didn’t even try prayer/meditation/even reading a book, I just broke down. That’s when I really realized that despite all my introversion, I get lonely living by myself.
I shuffled through the rest of Lent. I did get more accustomed to jogging without headphones; I did watch less TV; I developed the potentially-annoying habit of singing to myself while cooking/doing housework. Oh, and the holy-day fasts? It turns out fasting is really difficult for me when 1) I’ve pulled a near all-nighter (Ash Wednesday) or 2) I have bloodwork done (Good Friday). A chalky-tasting protein shake or juice-and-a-granola-bar aren’t exactly feast foods, but I still felt like I was cheating.
Well, now I’ve come to Lent again, and again was/an ambitious. My original plan was to go completely vegan for Lent, but for several very legitimate reasons I opted against that this year. I went with a theme instead: Silence. (I like things with themes: parties, Lenten practices, y’know.) Sound familiar? I was—I am—better prepared this year, and am not attempting the same extreme. I decided to not watch TV/movies by myself—when I watch them, I’ll do it in community. With the time I gain, I decided to spend more time in intentional, non-multi-tasking silence (in the direction of meditation), and to (re)read Shusako Endo’s Silence (AMAZING, book, kind of perfect for Lent).
You read about my cold, and my breaking my fast for soup and camping out on the loveseat to watch movies. Yeah. I read the first page of Silence, but it was half an hour after I’d taken Benadryl, so it didn’t make a lot of sense, and then I fell asleep. I did nothing resembling meditation. I moped and ate cookies.
If Lent were a contest, I’d lose.
Thankfully, Lent is nothing like a contest (Lent Madness excepted), and while I’d like to be better at sticking with my disciplines, I think I’ve gotten as much or more out of failing at them. See, I’m a perfectionist, and a stubborn one at that. I don’t relish failure. I do fail, though—constantly. Not just during Lent, but year ’round, in all those things I have done and left undone. These little Lenten failings are just more obvious and, perhaps, more harmless—there are more dubious things than eating a bowl of soup or watching half a season of Gilmore Girls.
I experience this failure as a blessing. I can be anything but pridefully full of myself over my Lenten practices; instead, in my broken state, I’m moved just where I need to be to experience the flood of grace and redemption that are Christ’s salvific gift to the world. Perhaps my failure does a better job of preparing me for Easter than my success would.
I may not fall gracefully, but I can certainly say I fail grace-fully—thanks be to God.
How do you go about keeping Lent? Have you experienced any grace-full failings during Lent?