This Lent I am doing things solo (by which I mean without a church home and therefore without the usual groups I have had or led for study and reflection and discipline and sometimes worship). It has underscored for me that Lent is partly about learning that we can do without things we think we cannot. Many of us surrender some cherished thing for Lent – an activity, a food or beverage. Some people take social media fasts.
Most of us do not need these things – chocolate, Diet Coke, Twitter, coffee, meat, Facebook. They are things we enjoy. Or (like coffee for me) crutches we need to get through the day or get the day on track.
These sacrifices, great or small, serve a variety of spiritual purposes. The one that is on my mind today is loss. Not losing things like our keys or an umbrella. But losses that cut us to the soul – friendships, jobs, loved ones, financial security, marriages, a home, things we thought were true but turn out to be false, dreams we cherished and held but that never came to be. These are things whose loss is painful and not merely inconvenient. It can feel like death. Because it is death.
Lent is a training ground for loss. Learning by not drinking coffee how to lose a friend (either to death or the relationship’s end). Learning by not eating meat how to lose a job or a home. Inside these little losses that we intentionally suffer God works to help us grapple with the deaths that come and not just during Lent.
I am not sure I would have thought so, but this Lent is for me a time of loss. I haven’t given up anything this year but have lost lots of things. It is unsettling to have lost familiar patterns and not feeling able to reclaim them elsewhere – study groups, special activities, the weekly flow of worship. I have a new career that I love and to which God led me. But the old one hovers around in the background and won’t be ignored. My weekly pattern of life has changed dramatically and after four months it still feels… odd.
Just recently I experienced the loss of a friendship or at least I think so. It was a renewed acquaintance from my youth that now seems to be gone. Like all loss of personal connection it is disorienting, confusing, troubling. We always wonder what could have been different. What we did. What we didn’t. Even when we know the facts we don’t always understand the why. Sometimes we just know it is gone and nothing more.
Lent can teach us about enduring even in the face of loss. We will not die even though we have experienced death. We will not be unmade because some part of us seems lost or broken or injured. We will not be overwhelmed even if we feel like we are sinking in grief.
And even when we are overwhelmed… God remakes on the other side of Lent. This is not just the therapeutic God who comes to make things better. There is a God who comes to make the dead alive. And to make death yield to life. There is destruction but also new creation. There is a cross but also a vacated tomb. There is death but there is also resurrection. We cannot bear it all but we lean on and toward a Someone who can.