This may be the strangest thing I’ve said in a while, but this Lent was really good for me. While Lent is supposed to be a period of suffering and wandering, I’ve always viewed the liturgical season as a time of renewal and deep thought. Since I’d been in a period of serious self-evaluation for a few months prior to Ash Wednesday this year, I decided to add something to my life rather than to take something away. Quite frankly, I’d had enough suffering. I’d grown tired of contemplating my humanity, and I didn’t want to focus for one more minute on giving up some earthly pleasure.
I decided, since my church attendance had been pretty hit or miss for about 9 months, to add in going to the 8AM service at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. No matter what I decided, at the Ash Wednesday service as I was reminded that I’d come from dust and I’d return to dust, I would attend every Sunday morning, even if it meant getting up early on the only day I had to sleep in.
As usually happens when we obey the nudging of God, I was blessed in my obedience. I look back and recognize how the small act of going to church every Sunday helped me move from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. Was the 40 days some sort of mystical balm for my aching heart? No. Has my transition from hopelessness to hopefulness been easy? No. But I can say that today, the Monday after the third Sunday of Easter, that I have a strong hope that my life has changed for the better.
One positive thing to come from the 40-day Lenten season was my recognition of how self-centered I had become. I had spent so much time wallowing in my own misery and just clinging to my own concerns, that I failed to realize how shallow and internally focused I’d become. I suppose you could say that I had fallen into survival mode where I was focused on my own getting by, so much so that I was unable to see how people around me were suffering. And there’s a lot of suffering in this world.
In light of that, I’ve decided to cut everything out of my life that seems like work to me, things that feel like they go against my ethic or against my conscience. I’m cutting out racing and getting back to the pleasure of exercise, trail running, swimming, and disc golfing with no particular goal or destination in mind. I’m decreasing the pain I bring into this world by being vegetarian. I’m consciously trying to relax and breathe through situations that might cause me stress or where I might say or do something that doesn’t bring peace to this place.
Most importantly, however, I am trying to focus my energy toward helping others in whatever ways I can, which could include just helping folks out, not talking about people (which I try to avoid anyway), being alongside people when they need me, and just loving folks no matter who they are. The biggest way I see to put other people first is to pray for people and when you pray for them, you’re really changing yourself through those prayers. This idea is wholly embraced by the writers of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.
I typically believe that whenever I think of someone, those thoughts are similar to praying for them, but during Lent, I felt moved to have a more concerted prayer time wherein I conscientiously pray for the needs of my friends. I’ve decided to visit either St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica on one of my days off each week, and I’ll simply put aside some time to pray for people by name, along with praying for whatever concerns I know are on their hearts or whatever they share with me to pray for. Is there a better way to spend time off than in prayer for family and friends surrounded by beautiful art and architecture?
I’ve learned that if I am more concerned for others, my concerns work themselves out on their own.