Practical Lent

A good number of Americans think of Lent as “that season when you give something up 1.”

Lent is a lot more than that.

Lent is a season of holy introspection, prayer, and paying close attention to the rhythm of life in order to better align oneself with the Savior. It is a season to reinvest in healthy behaviors, and to practice setting aside behaviors which may be healthy, but have become all-consuming. Lent is probably my favorite liturgical season because it acts as the framework for Easter 2.

Two of the most healthy spiritual actions to undertake during Lent are “confession” and “repentance.” It’s unsurprising how little we tend to do of both.

Americans tend not to like these words – they are viewed as neurotic, or weak, or as “opening oneself up to lawsuits.” American Christians actually tend to take offense at the very idea of repentance. After all, we go directly to God for forgiveness, why does anyone on earth need to see our “dirty laundry?”

So we spin, and say we “miscalculated” or showed an “error in judgement.” But we tend to stop short of saying we were wrong, or that our actions contributed to a system which actually causes serious harm. After all, that would be weak, and open us up to lawsuits.

I don’t think it’s confession and repentance which makes us neurotic, it’s the lack of confession and repentance.

And then there’s days where I see something which truly blows my mind. I have a good number of political disagreements with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, but the other day he stood in front of a gathered audience and did something amazing.

He repented.

First, he stood in front of an audience and bemoaned the current state of political discourse in the country, and the impact it has on the very institution of Government. This was not new, I hear this all the time from politicians.

But then Speaker Ryan changed the script. He didn’t deflect the blame for the current level of discourse on the other side of the aisle. He didn’t vilify people who disagree with him. He didn’t even try to convince people that his views were the correct views. Instead, he spoke about language he had formerly used which mentioned “makers” and “takers” as a way to highlight the difference between people on public assistance and those who are not. And he simply said, “I was wrong.”

He didn’t even guarantee that he’d never be sucked back into the echo chamber again 3. But he made no bones about the fact he’d be wrong to do so.

Speaker Ryan, we may disagree on any number of topics. But I applaud you for demonstrating the healthy practices of confession and repentance so wonderfully. May we all raise our discourse to match.

If you want to watch the excellent speech, It’s embedded below.

  1. If you’re Roman Catholic it also means, “That season when you don’t eat meat on Fridays.” If you’re a prideful non-denomination believer Lent is, “That thing non-Spirit-filled people do so they can replace a relationship with religion.” 
  2. Or, if you are Orthodox, Pascha. Which is, frankly, a vastly superior name. 
  3. Given that’s my favorite term for what passes for discourse on social media, I was rather pleased to see it used by someone else.