A tiny disclaimer: Today, I am going to write about my faith. You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to believe the same thing as me. You definitely don’t have to stop and take the time to read this, although I would be happy if you did. If you do stop and read, please, before posting something hurtful or unkind, consider this: It is always OK to walk away without saying anything at all.
I’m having a hard Lent this year. It hurts me to type those words, as if putting them out there on the page (even a virtual page) where I can read them out loud makes them more real. It makes the feeling more real. And, the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not a good feeling.
This is my (I think) third year celebrating Lent. I say, “I think” because, although I have always been Christian, I haven’t always been Catholic. I was raised Baptist, which is a far different way of worshipping than where I am now. And yet, somehow, in my heart, being Catholic is such a beautiful and comfortable fit for me that it almost feels like this has been my faith and my life for always. Going through RCIA and getting confirmed were, hands-down, two of the BEST things I have ever done in my life. The hardest: yes, as my extended family and, in particular, my parents, weren’t at all happy with my decision. But, even so, the best and most beautiful. These words don’t seem like enough to encompass all the feelings of love and happiness that surge through me when I think about it, but words are all I have to put on this virtual page. And so, they will have to do their best to suffice.
In that first year, when I was still going through RCIA, everything was new and exciting to me. And so, I approached Lent with the same exuberance and thrill with which I approached everything about my new faith journey. In many ways, that first Lent wasn’t even hard. It didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice to me because I was getting so much back in return. So many feelings of anxious excitement and wide-eyed wonder at all the new experiences. So much love and support. In many ways, it felt like the whole Church had opened her heart and arms to me, drawing me close in a comforting hug. The entire experience was fresh and new and exciting, and I approached all of it with a sense of wide-eyed wonder, which was made even stronger by the fact that my daughter had decided to go through RCIA at the same time. So I got to experience all of these “firsts” right along with her.
Last year, I remember looking forward to Lent’s arrival. Not in the same wide-eyed, eager way I had anticipated that first Lenten Season. Things didn’t feel so new. It felt more like I was where I belonged, living my faith in a way that made my heart happy. That part of it was exciting, but that part is always exciting. I’m sure I struggled with things last year. I mean, we all struggle with things. And, if you’re like me, you have things you struggle and wrestle with on a daily (if not hourly!) basis. But, overall, I remember feeling optimistic and positive all throughout Lent last year. It was a wonderfully healing time of reflection for me, and I felt like Lent kind of flew by. It was like I got to the end of the 40 days, and I was all, “Wait? That’s it? We’re done?”
This year … This year … This year …
What can I even say about it in my mind, other than, “Ugh. I just don’t know.” I went into the month of February not really looking forward to Lent all that much. I wasn’t dreading it or anything like that, but it was more that I struggled to muster the energy to think about it or deal with it at all.
I am wrestling with many things in my life right now. My writing life has been pretty abysmal for months. My daughter has hit her pre-teens running, and, as a result, is often not much fun to be around. (I know this will pass, and I know she is the same sweet and wonderful child/person she always has been. But, for now, her attitude often hands my life a big extra helping of “not fun”.) My husband is dissatisfied and stressed out with his work and career. I feel alternately frustrated and sad and guilty and angry and sad and … well, not appreciated. And sad. Did I mention sad? And I have this impending sense of doom kind of floating over my life. I feel like the next few years are going to bring some big changes for my family and me. I could be wrong about this, but there is this tingling sort of crackle in the air that makes me suspect change is afoot in our little corner of the universe. This doesn’t mean these changes will be bad. But, right now, the world feels ominous and uncertain and, I don’t know … like a very dark gray color, where the light struggles to find cracks to get through.
And then, there are the outside forces with which we all contend. The whole “politics thing” is a huge one for me. It seems that all anyone around me wants to talk about is politics. This is not a topic I ever care to discuss, but I can’t get away from it. It is, literally, in my face every time I turn around. This seems to be such a polarizing topic that most people can’t find it within themselves to discuss anything related to it with compassion, kindness, empathy, or even just basic politeness. There are so many hypocritical statements, jeering remarks, or just plain mean comments that it becomes hard for me to turn away from them and continue having compassion, empathy, and love within my heart for the people who say them. It becomes doubly hard when the comments cut even deeper because they come from those I considered friends.
So, basically, as we head into Holy Week, I feel like I dragged myself through every second of every minute of every hour of every day of Lent. I feel like I made most of the journey this year on my hands and knees. I have bumps and bruises and scrapes and burns all over my soul from the journey. I feel used up and beaten down and discouraged. I feel sad, and my cross feels heavy, as if it is dragging through the dirt behind me. I’m spiritually exhausted, and I can’t help but question whether or not I even have the energy to make it over the finish line to the glory and celebration that is Easter. Right now, I’m not even looking forward to Easter at all. I can’t even see that ending light through the foggy haze of my own spiritual fatigue.
I wonder if this is how Jesus felt. And I know, even if I feel completely isolated and alone from moment to moment, that I am not. I have never carried my cross alone. And I wonder if, maybe, there is also beauty in the darker times of our lives, because those are the times that force us to turn toward our truest beliefs. Those are the times that force us to seek out our truest faith and strength and love. Next year, maybe I will look back on this Lent and think to myself, “You know, it really was a good Lent, after all.”