Kerry is a graduate of Providence College in Rhode Island and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She is an associate editor for America magazine and is also the author of the book Keeping the Faith: Prayers for College Students (Twenty-Third Publications). This month, we asked Kerry to share her thoughts on making time for Lent in a busy life.
Christmas is a time of many lists: gifts to purchase or gifts I’d like to receive; cookies to bake or ingredients to purchase—and, of course, lists of those who have been naughty or nice.
The connection between lists and Lent, however, isn’t always obvious. There are no Lenten songs involving the checking of lists and no Lenten cookies to bake, but the season often seems closely tied to a long list of tasks. But while my Christmas lists tend to be cheer-filled, my Lenten lists sometimes take on a less joyful tone: things to give up, donations to be made, prayers to be said; lists of my sins before going to confession.
Lent is more than a list
In fact, if I’m not careful, Lent itself can sometimes seem to be little more than a checklist of things to do or not do, to say or to avoid saying. “Alleluia” is out. And “atonement” is in. Add to that my everyday to-do list, and the entire season can be completely overwhelming.
I find myself wondering: How am I supposed to live a normal life while doing all of these “extra” things for Lent?
The short answer is: I’m not. Lent is meant to be a bit disruptive, to push us outside of our comfort zones. Lent is a time of preparation, of purification. But while all my lists are well-intended, it’s all too easy to lose sight of their larger purpose, and to forget what, exactly, I’m trying to prepare for.
Let Lent transform you
Lent is meant to help us recognize and identify with the suffering of others, to consider others’ needs before our own— and one doesn’t do that simply by crossing items off a list.
Participating in the Lenten traditions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not meant to distract from, but be enhancements to our everyday life. They open us up to be more loving, more giving; they help us strip away those things in our life that are extraneous.
Find peace during Lent
If we take the time to use these practices to help us focus on Christ’s sacrifice, we might gain a little perspective on the meaning of our own and learn better how to emulate his. In fact, during Lent I’m often surprised to find that in giving more of myself to others, I am better able to find a peace that assists with rather than distracts from my everyday goals.
In taking a few moments to pray, I find calm in the midst of even the most hectic days. And in the midst of it all, my Lenten lists are transformed from items that can be completed to a process that is ongoing. Lent lasts 40 days, but its message and its lessons remain relevant long after the last day of the season is crossed off.