April 11, 2014 / Seth Richardson

Lent is Too Long

As we approach Holy Week, I feel a sense of relief. I am reminded again this year that Lent is long – too long.

Over and over again these past four weeks I have been hit, like the pounding of waves against the shore, with the reminder that I am a terrible manager of my brokenness. About the time I’m giving myself a high-five for how skillfully I’ve grasped this spirituality stuff and ferreted-out sin, I discover that all I’ve really done is transfer my brokenness from one department of my heart to another.

If Lent were shorter – a week or two perhaps – I might feel more triumphal about accomplishing it. But as it stands, forty days outlasts my spiritual stamina. Like a relationship, the slow wearing-on of time exposes the distance between the person I tell myself and others I’d like to be and the person I truly am. The longer I stay in it and attend to the gritty mundane, the more I learn about who I am when I’m naked and raw.

As Lent lingers, I grow weary massaging the illusion that my addictions and idolatries fade away simply because I’ve recognized they exist and have resolved to change. I would prefer to sell you the version of myself that expertly eradicated my junk.

But if I let you truly know me, and if I truly knew myself, then you would see that my junk comes in layers. A shorter Lent would help me avoid facing the frightening reality that the top layer is only the beginning. Forty days, if I can actually be present in those days, exposes how deep the trail of junk goes. It’s frightening because the deeper layers require more trust and less control.

We live in a world that can neither admit nor properly deal with sin and death. Even in church we are often encouraged (implicitly, at least) to avoid and manage our brokenness. It seems to me that the world prefers short Lent: non-attentiveness to the sheer volume of weeds in our midst. Short Lent mutes the true sting of death as it encourages feverish and neurotic plucking. At best short Lent is a self-help scheme that never addresses the fundamental deadness lingering in the corners of our heart.

This long trudge through Lent, however, reminds me that death is a necessary condition for resurrection. I need not avoid the death of my sinful self or manage the process out of fear that life will end. And that’s it: I am deeply afraid that what I will loose if I turn and attend to the junk that rises to the surface during Lent is my life. But in Christ, death is not the end but the beginning for true life.

The question is, can I submit myself in trust to this reality today?

I’m learning that Lent should not go well. If I come out the other end of these forty days with the impression that I’ve done a good job observing Lent, I have missed the point. The best thing that could happen to me is that, through this long journey in the wilderness, I am met with the palpable realization that I desperately need Easter.