Lent starts next Wednesday and my anxiety has increased. It doesn’t help that I’m not on meds anymore.
I hate Lent. It fills me with dread.
Lent always seems to bring out the competition in Catholics, more so online these days. It’s like Lent needs to be the horrible torture fest in the name of God and if you aren’t miserable and despairing than you aren’t a good Catholic making a good Lent. The more miserable you are the better. Of course that feeds my anxiety and depression because I already believe I’m a horrible Catholic because I don’t do fifty devotions everyday, volunteer 70 hours everyday along with working 90 hours a day while caring for 4000 people. Heavens, I have a hard time going to Mass on Sundays and I pray in the morning and at night and go to Confession regularly but apparently that isn’t enough. That God isn’t going to love me until I’ve worked myself into the ground and then He’ll deign to notice my existence but only the once because I still haven’t done enough to even be considered worthy enough to gain a second glance. And forget about Heaven. As my mother constantly told me growing up, bad girls like me go straight to Hell. I existed therefore I was bad.
Lent seems to turn God into a psychopathic, sadomasochistic tyrant bent on humiliating people and sending them to Hell, going by the way Catholics act and talk during Lent. (And outside of Lent, too, at least for some Catholics). It’s like God is absent or barely there the rest of the time or at least this pleasant parent that lets the kids get away with everything but then Lent starts and God turns into this bully that lays down the law very strictly and any deviation is automatically a sending to Hell, do not pass Go, do not repent and go to Confession, there is no way that forgiveness is going to happen so you better freaking forget it. Messing up means you’re dead to me.
Intellectually, I understand that this is not God but how people imaging God to be and what they think Lent should be. The part of me that constantly heard that God couldn’t possibly love me and that I was going straight to Hell along with all the “Catholic” opinions stated as Church teaching make this easy to believe and to fall into this mindset. And I’m left to figure out what is real and what isn’t all on my own. It all feeds my depression and anxiety and just makes worse. And there are a lot of Catholics that would like to keep my marginalized or even excommunicated from the Church because of my depression and anxiety. I am not in a good place when it comes to Lent let alone my faith sometimes.
Lent has an emphasis on three things: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Yet, I’ve always seen an extremely improper focus on fasting and fasting alone with maybe Stations of the Cross thrown in. Everyone is “giving something up” which they think is the whole purpose of Lent. This is where the competition comes in. And it is competition because it ends with Easter and they can resume what they had “given up” which many do with relish. This is not the purpose of Lent. So what is?
The purpose of Lent is to prepare for the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is also when the elect (those going through RCIA) prepare to enter the Church and receive the Sacraments, to be Baptized into the Body of Christ. Fasting is important but it isn’t the main thing or the primary importance. Jesus is. Our focus should be on our relationship with Jesus and what we can do to improve that relationship. But that relationship shouldn’t necessarily be at the cost of our other relationships. A parent can’t stop taking care of their children to go to daily Mass, volunteer at the parish, etc. They can add these things if they are prudent but the care of children is how the parent lives their relationship with Christ and their vocation and has priority. A mother can’t add or do things that would harm her child(ren).
And what about prayer and almsgiving? Other than adding the Stations of the Cross or maybe daily Mass most don’t focus on prayer. And almsgiving? Well, Catholics seem to be tight fisted with money and give the least out of all groups.
Lent uses all three (fasting, prayer, and almsgiving) to help us focus on Christ and his Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection. Like Church relies on Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium (think a three legged stool) to uphold her teachings/doctrine, so does Lent rely on the three legged stool of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. You can’t focus on one to the detriment of the other two. You’ll fall off the stool on to the ground and end up with bruises and embarrassed. I can’t think of Lent as a time to focus on being punished for my sins, as a time to suffer just to suffer. Yes, I have come across Catholics that just want fellow Catholics to suffer just to see them suffer and so they can gloat about being “better” Catholics.
So what to do for Lent?
Well, the Church already tells us when and how to fast and abstain. Maybe add Wednesdays during Lent as an extra day of fasting and/or abstinence. If you have an activity or behavior that drives you batty and you know gets in the way of your relationship with God and/or others, then definitely give that up. I know I shouldn’t read certain things on the Web (I’ve started it already) since they make my anxiety worse. It’s not just something I’m going to do for Lent because my anxiety exists all the time and not just in Lent. Don’t just “give up” something just to give up something. Do it with purpose and that you can continue outside of Lent. I suggest giving up sinning because you can continue it all year round.
For prayer, I’m working on being consistent in my prayer life. I started that several Lents ago and work on that all the time. That’s a good habit that can continue outside of Lent. Or maybe add one prayer. Or add a prayer to pay at specific times of the day. I pray a Hail Mary as I’m making my bed in the morning (okay, when I get up) and include several in my bedtime prayers. That was actually a penance I received several months ago that has turned into a good habit and I liked doing it so I kept doing it. Yes, you still pray the Stations of the Cross.
Almsgiving. Yes, you’re going to have to open your wallet. Look at your budget. How much is truly necessary (rent, utilities, food, gas, insurance, student loan payments) and how much is luxury (daily trips to the coffee shop, the gym membership you barely use, buying new and expensive clothes when you have perfectly good clothes already or can find it cheaper and used at Goodwill, etc.)? If you haven’t been giving anything, start with $5 or $10 at least once a month. If already giving, give another $5 more or start giving weekly. Or at least give to the special collections like St. Vincent de Paul or the Bishop’s Appeal. If you can’t give at all, offer you time. Volunteer. Parishes always need help somewhere. (I do give even though I’m still currently unemployed. I give because I can and my lack of employment doesn’t effect my relationship with the parish.)
See, Lent doesn’t have to hurt. You don’t need to suffer needlessly or pointlessly or at all. I don’t have to either.
One thing I am focusing on is taking better care of myself. Depression can be very debilitating. It can be hard to do simple, everyday things let alone new, complex things. And my anxiety feeds my depression and my depression feeds my anxiety. Not fun. So I’m working on treating them and not just during Lent.
I am totally giving up snow, however. That stuff is vile. (And yes, we had snow yesterday (23) and today (24) and it’s almost the end of February. Seriously whacked if you ask me.