The Lent You Want vs. the Lent You Need

flowers in the snow
flowers in the snow (Photo credit: elpostito)

I confess: I have an idealized view of Lent. My first spring in grad school, Lent came like a breath of renewal on the heels of one of the most difficult six months of my life. My first semester had been a nightmare of homesickness and a hellish roommate situation interspersed with glorious moments of musical learning and discovering like-minded friends. When Lent came around that year, I couldn’t go home for Easter. Every fiber of my soul longed for the familiar sounds and faces of my parish back home.

I thought it would be a miserable forty (-six) days. Instead, the whole season gleams in my memory with a concentrated, pure white flame, as all the suffering and loneliness concentrated to a point and softened the ground of my soul. It was one of the most fertile times of soul growth I have ever experienced, a season in which joy walked beside me on the long daily trek from my apartment to the school of music, across fields and a creek, while winter passed slowly and softly into a spring like nothing I had ever seen. (Spring feels different in places where it’s actually cold and snow-covered all winter.)

I’ve never had another Lent like that one. The next year I spent the season preparing for Comps, which, by virtue of being scheduled for Easter Monday, forced me to spend even Easter Sunday studying. (Blech!) Since then I’ve occasionally caught a whiff of that sanctity, but that spring of 1998 remains the ideal for which I strive.

This Lent has been just about as 180 degrees the opposite direction as it is possible for a Lent to be. I’m failing miserably at my Lenten goals (so spectacularly that at present I can’t even remember what they were anymore). As anyone who’s read my blog the last few weeks knows, I’ve not been a picture of holy motherhood and saintly living lately. And although the provocations are certainly not without justification, it doesn’t change the fact that my response has been less grace-filled and more sinful.

But it occurred to me this weekend–when I went to Confession so to leave the anger and temper loss in the past, and then came home to lose my cool again spectacularly that night–that sometimes the Lent you want is not the Lent you need. Sometimes we need to spend a few weeks staring at the excruciating image in the mirror: the one that forces us to live with the knowledge of our own powerlessness against sin, and how much we need God to carry us through it.