What am I doing differently for Lent this year?
At least, nothing intentional. I may be suffering from additional guilt for not having a spiritually enlightened answer to the question.
I have joined a Facebook group -- "The Lenten Project" -- in the hope that it might inspire me. I am overwhelmed by the effort the members are making to fill what remains of the 40 days with meaningful efforts to draw closer to God. The person I relate to most is struggling to emerge from depression and anxiety and is trying to emerge from her "comfortable cocoon" by posting on the site daily.
I am in a cocoon too, but it is anything but comfortable. Since my mother died in July 2015, just after my 71st birthday, my life has been a perpetual Lent with no resurrection in sight. I have worked hard to take care of myself, interact with other people, and get closer to God, and I have seen some progress. I dream of waking up some morning and discovering that I have enough courage and energy to carry out the plans I made so hopefully the day before.
In the "good old days" (that would be the Fifties), Lent was less complicated. The most popular things for people to give up for Lent were booze or candy. Their bodies probably thanked them for that sacrifice, but very few made the change permanent, perhaps because it would mean thinking of something different to give up the following year.
Hard-liners went to extra church services, fasted on Fridays, or gave up meat. If they gained any benefits from these practices, they did not discuss them with me.
My mother explained to me that giving up something costly that we enjoyed would free up money to give to people in need. That made sense to me, but I never actually tried doing it. My one big Lenten experiment in my teens consisted of giving up reading the comic strips in our daily paper. I couldn't give up TV because we didn't have electricity. Abstaining from those comics was incredibly difficult, but I did it. I had no inclination to do it again.
Today's Lenten disciplines seem much more elaborate, and often center around improved self-care, as well as spiritual reading and intentional acts of charity. Doing a random act of kindness daily takes a lot more imagination than abstaining from one's nightcap.
A lot of people complain of being over-stressed and not having enough time, longing to simplify their schedules and find a niche for rest and possibly prayer. Making even a small change can be a huge challenge, difficult to sustain.
Some gurus of Lenten disciplines seem determined to make Lent a guilt trip rather than a voyage of discovery. If we are really serious about the whole idea, we must fast from injustice, greed, resentment, self-indulgence, and every imaginable manifestation of the Seven Deadly Sins. Others will tell us that baby steps are all we can manage, and God's grace will supply the rest.
All I know for sure is that I am looking forward to Easter. My cocoon is getting awfully tight.