Lent: It’s NOT Punishment

I think that’s where I’ve failed in the past.  Seeing Lent as a time of punishment, of castigating myself, to make up for all my failures.  I had never heard Lent as anything other than as doing without, sacrificing, giving up, abstaining, faster.  Always loss, no gain.  There was no going towards anything, no journey, no path to travel.  Lent was always about wallowing, being stuck, never moving on or letting go.  It was always about being a sinner in the hands of an angry, capricious god who was just waiting for failure.

Everything, everyone was bad.  There was no fun, no laughter, no smiles.  Only tears and it’s too lates and I’m sorrys that were ignored.  It was always gloom and doom and somber and bleakness and failure.  Always failure.  Always never enoughs.

But that’s not what Lent is.  Yes, there is sobriety but not despair, not blackness numbness joylessness unhappiness dull tediousness. It’s one thing to correct one’s course after reflection.  It’s another thing entirely to self-flagelate oneself over tiny, insignificant things to make somebody else happy at your expense. 

Lent is a journey towards a specific destination and specific events: the Tridiuum. Otherwise known as: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter.  I knew that these days come at the end of Lent, that they are a liturgical season into themselves but I had never heard that Lent was a journey to these days.  They were always separate.  They may be next to each other on the calendar but never the twain shall meet.

It want until recently, as in the last week or so, that I heard of Lent as a journey to Easter.  And that changes things.  Lent becomes less about what we give up and more about how we are related to Jesus.  I never knew that.  Lent was about empty sacrifice, not sanctifying relationship.  There was always doing, never being, especially not in a relationship.

I mean, I’ve heard that Lent is before Easter and that it leads to it but it was always off hand or secondary, never the main thing.  It was always about sacrifice and punishment, always punishment for me.  As I’ve written before, I have this belief, this need to punish myself out of this idea that if I punish myself then God will finally love me.  Punishing myself will make things right, with God, with my mother.

And yet punishing myself only results in me being punished.  I never get loved, nothing ever turns out right.  But I keep punishing myself hoping this time that it will take, that God, my mother will finally love me.  That I won’t be a failure, a mistake.  That things will turn out right.  But they don’t and I keep on punishing myself even though it never works and never will.  It’s all I know how to do.

Being merciful to myself is bad.  Punishing is good.  I deserve to be punished.  Being nice and kind to myself only sets me up for failure.  I can’t trust nice. It’s wrong.  It’s not for me, never for me. 

So Lent isn’t about empty sacrifices and cruel punishments though that is what I learned and accepted for years.  Lent is about the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Yet those crucial events in the narrative of Jesus’s life aren’t really emphasized in Lent, not really.  Most of us have only heard about giving up things or adding more prayers or about going to Confession more.  Never about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.  Or at least very little is heard.

Will things change? I don’t know.  But Lent is not about punishment, about a sinner in the hands of an angry god. God is merciful even if too many people want a god that hates and punishes rather than a loving and merciful God.

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