I am on Twitter again — don’t ask me why, because honestly, I do not know if I can answer that honestly — I do love Twitter because there is so much information on it and I learn from people. I hate it because it goes so fast and because it is where some of the ugliest things have happened that I have ever seen online, and keep happening. I know there are uglier places online but for me, Twitter is the worst of what I have seen.
Anyway, I’m there.
While I am there, I see lots of folks talking about Lent during a year-long pandemic. Last year during Lent the pandemic was new. We were in shock or we thought it would be over soon. Well, here we are and it’s been a year: of death, grief, spotlights on racism and then there’s the election. We are all tired — bone tired — traumatized, and still trying to do normal life things.
Now, Lent is coming.
I know this kind of weariness well. My son Anthony died by suicide on the first Wednesday of Lent 2017. That Lent was hard but it was mostly a blur. The following year was when the weariness and exhaustion set in. The shock had worn off and all the pain of what the last year had been hit. Lent of 2018 was the worst of my life.
What I learned from it was that Lent is not about suffering.
Life will bring suffering. We do not have to seek it out. It comes in one form or another all on its own. We do have to seek God. That is what Lent is about.
Getting closer to God, not suffering more.
I know people who do not eat meat on Fridays all year long and who observe Lent with sacrifice and almsgiving and all the Lenten activity stuff. That’s great — I mean it — even and especially if you do not know how to answer the question: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” Not being able to answer that question is par for the course in the Christian life. Sometimes, just doing the things is all you can do, and the sense of it all will come or not.
If we don’t know — as we know our Savior lives — that the point of it all is to let Him govern us first and last, then all of those actions will be literally pointless.
The point of Lent is to orientate ourselves, our hearts and minds, towards God. To grow in our relationship with Him. It is not to make sure that we do things that make good fodder for Instagram — or the Tweet Beast.
This Lent, we can all do things that bring us to a place in which we care about our neighbor. We can find ways to laugh with our families and neighbors in a time where it feels as if we are separated in a million ways. We can do things to push back against our contempt for one another, which is spreading as fast as the virus.
These things bring us closer to God.
For anyone grieving the things and people lost in the past year my suggestion is to observe an “upstream Lent”. That is what I have begun to call it. It is easy for me to sink in the suffering and dread of Lent so I have to go in the opposite direction and make myself find joy, love and light. That is what sacrifice to the Lord looks like for me.
We need real and holy sacrifice.
It does not have to be difficult, or — forgive me — manufactured suffering. It can be about joy and love. It does have to be real. It must be about Jesus. The world needs people centered on Jesus. That has been made clear in the last twelve months.
Leticia Ochoa Adams is the creator of the Catholic Speakers of Color resource for conference organizers. She writes from Texas, on life, death, grief, suicide, faith, motherhood, doubts and whatever (else) happens to be on her mind.