Lent: The Year I Gave Up Being Sorry

by Sr. Mary Ann Zimmer, ND

If you are not Catholic, you might consider it rude to go around asking people specific questions about their spiritual lives, among Catholics it is considered perfectly normal small talk to inquire, “Well, what are you giving up for Lent?” This expression covers whatever resolution a person might have made in hopes of arriving at Easter spiritually renewed. It usually assumes some form of self-discipline or deprivation—thus, what are you giving up?

I learned a lot the year I gave up being sorry. First, I learned that this answer strongly distressed the inquirer. People wanted to debate it with me. “Surely, you are sorry for something!” Second, I learned that it was exactly what I needed to do and ever after it has shaped my view of my Lenten observance.

First of all, it is a privilege to choose a practice or sacrifice for Lent. The emotional time and space even to pose the question is a luxury that may not be available to people absorbed by necessity in day-to-day survival. So, the mere consideration is an occasion for gratitude!
I chose my Lenten practice that year on the same basis as healthcare professionals warn us so sternly about taking someone else’s medicine. What heals someone else might kill me!

That year I was newly aware that I had been walking around feeling apologetic for taking up space on the planet! The idea that I should spend five weeks focusing on what I needed to be sorry for or get more perfect at was the opposite of what would guide me to an Easter resurrection. Any psychological issue aside, I had a spiritual diagnosis. I was badly out of touch with the gift of love offered by my Creator. I had an attention deficit when it came to the joy God intends for me. When I heard in sermons that I should be less selfish and more humble, I felt like this was a dangerous path.

The same might apply to tired parents who can’t remember when they last had a full night’s sleep or caregivers who are on call 24/7. Maybe your Lent is a moment a day to focus on the fact that you matter to God, beyond what service you provide—just as a beloved.

One person might need to get more serious about intensive spiritual practice, giving alms, or service. Another person might need simply to rest in the peaceful recognition of God’s unconditional mercy. One person might need to be more readily willing to serve others. Another might need to pull back only to the essentials lest exhaustion or resentment kill all generosity. I want to emphasize that some of these might improve one’s mental health, but, above all, they are practices to touch more deeply into who God wants to be for us.

In the spiritual life there is no one-size-fits-all. One person’s growing-edge sacrifice is another person’s temptation.

Diagnosis first, then prescription. Where is God calling me this Lent?