The Anxieties of Lent


By Carolyn Shields

There’s no one right way to ‘do Lent.’ Anyone else ever feel like they were told otherwise or felt pressured to do Lent the right or the best way? Anyone else ever find themselves caught in conversations where someone nonchalantly asks what you’re doing for Lent, and you feel either uncomfortable because sometimes, that’s a personal question, or you feel obligated to defend your answer, or you were worried that it wasn’t enough? To repeat: there’s no one right way to do Lent.

What if what we chose to give up actually benefits us? Or is tainted with some selfishly desired end goal, like losing weight? What if we aren’t doing enough rather than giving up? It’s so easy to allow these questions to almost distract us from what matters most: growing in a relationship with Christ during this season.

So there’s a ton of different ways this can happen. There’s a ton of different ways it can look! So don’t stress out about a commitment or lack of. Lent looks different for everyone. If someone asked me what I gave up last year, I would have struggled to respond, “Nothing…but also everything?” Or what if my response was, “Cutting back on using my phone after dark because it can lead me to sin?” Am I the only one who has actually lied about this because my answer was too personal?

And I think, maybe, it should be excruciatingly personal to all of us. It shouldn’t be reduced to a phrase (Sweets! Social media! I’m exercising daily!).

This season is an incredibly intimate one, and if you’re feeling pressure about whether what you are considering is the right thing, disregard that weight from the devil. Stop worrying if giving up every beverage but water is partly because you would like to shed a pound or two. The Blessed Mother takes our intentions and what we have to offer—albeit, given that they are from a place of honest integrity—and she cleanses them of all our impurities so that she can present them to her Son as a spotless sacrifice. And honestly, trying to find something to give up without any benefit to yourself is tough, and there’s a reason for that. The reason: because our God is good!

Why would God challenge us to rid ourselves of vices without any complimentary rise in holiness? Running every day and using that time for prayer is beautiful for the woman who needs to crack down on commitment…and if in the end, she strengthens her interior resolutions but also fits into a smaller dress size, God is good! Or saying no to frivolous expenses and only purchasing what is needed because this woman needs to grow in self-control and does so and also saves some money is great, because again, God is good! Nope, those benefits shouldn’t be our main objective, but when we tackle vices head on, our God rewards us.

So don’t let the pressures of our peers intimidate you. Don’t let anxieties about whether or not what you’re doing is good enough seep into your prayer life this Lent. But begin asking yourself in the days leading up to Lent, how might you grow closer to Christ. Don’t wait til Ash Wednesday and then commit to a fast or penance that lingers outside the peripheries of your actual prayer life. Don’t make some unrealistic goal and beat yourself up when you fail.

But come before Holy and with your hands open, ask Him what He asks of you.