“It seems like during Lent, it’s one thing after another,” she said we waited for our daughters to finish their ballet class.
“Yeah…” I murmured. I could go with that idea. The last two Lents were spent bedside in the hospital and at the cemetery.
In her untiring cheerfulness, my friend added, “but then Easter comes and it’s better than ever before.”
Seasons of Change
New seasons come one after another. After a potentially grueling Lent, we behold Easter equipped with “alleluias” and proclamations. The colors, sounds, smells and sights of the liturgy change with the season. We see white, smell lilies, flinch a little as the priest waves the branch blessing us with holy water.
The wisdom of the Liturgical Cycle is that of the phrase, “wash, rinse, repeat.”
Lent seems all about forming new habits and detaching from the old. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the call. While researchers debate how long it takes to form a new habit, most support a range of 30-60 days.
The words, “you are dust and unto dust, you shall return,” or “repent and believe in the Gospel” called us to live the moments of our lives intentionally. Our tomorrows are not guaranteed. Like the reflections that come when someone we know dies, we reflected on how we could live a better life. Although instead of doing it after a death, we did it leading up to a death, the day Christians recall the Crucifixion, a Friday called Good.
I reflected for myself: am I living a life consistent with my convictions? What can I improve? This was the fodder for my prayer.
In fasting, I removed the excess in order to bring into focus what really matters to me and the things became unintentionally central in my life. Like the Whole 30 diet, this intensive approach seeks to break the bad habits in order to make room for the new, the things I want to be central in my life.
Prayer sustained me when I saw how weak I was in the face of the habits I tried to give up.
Through almsgiving, I turned my gaze outward to the other. How could I assist those in my life, even in the face of my weakness?
When there is a concerted effort in a short span of time, the effort tends to be more effective. After forty days, however, my intentions seemed to languish.
Crossing the Divide
We crossed the great divide from Lent to Easter, embracing the Triduum, three days unto themselves, separate from all other seasons. A shorter season, a sharper focus.
And then came Easter.
The silence sang loudly on Holy Saturday. Through the darkness, the Easter fire spread from tiny taper to tiny taper and the Church filled with light beginning the Easter Vigil. A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
What happened next?
The events of the Acts of the Apostles unfolded, after hiding in the upper room and meeting Christ, the apostles stood dumbfounded while an angel scolded, “what are you waiting for?”
What are we waiting for?
The boost we gain from the season of fasting and repentance and the joy and hope grown for Easter will fade. Work, life, stress will happen.
Then Lent comes again. Then fasting comes again. Then Easter comes again.
We are working out our salvation.
Growth Involves Change
In the stages of change, each time we wash, rinse, repeat, we grow a little more.
When we consider how change works in our lives, the trans-theoretical model of change is invaluable. In it, the first stage is the pre-contemplation stage. I might minimize or rationalize this problem, or project the problem onto others. Once awareness settles in, the contemplation stage begins with emerging awareness and consideration of the problem. Gradually contemplation moves into the preparation stage, the third stage of change. Plans are forming, maybe even some small changes. When the action begins, it moves me to the next stage, the action stage which demands time, energy and effort as changes are made.
The effort slows down after a while. It does not mean change did not happen. If I fall a little, or a lot, at this point, I’ll go through the stages again. Knowing this is inevitable, that change is hard, will help keep me motivated to give it another go.
We fall a little, then grow a little.
You may not have “succeeded” at your Lenten commitment.
Does Easter make everything better than before?
In a way, but the scars remain and the weaknesses remain.
And that’s okay.
Lent comes again, then Easter comes again.
We are working out our salvation to draw close to him to showed us the way perfectly and that it can be accomplished with God. In this lies, the Easter hope.