Thursday, February 14, 2013


I didn’t know much about the season of Lent growing up, not having been raised in a liturgical church. Didn’t even know it was a “season”. All I knew was that people got ashes on their head on Ash Wednesday and gave up something they liked for Lent. When I first became an Episcopalian, every year I asked myself what I should give up for Lent and every year I failed to follow through. (Same goes with New Year’s Resolutions, but that’s another post.) As I have grown in my understanding I began to see that Lent is not just about what you give up but about what you learn, and what you take on.

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.* 

I don’t even like to talk in terms of what I’m giving up for Lent because when you focus on what you are giving up you spend the entire 40 days feeling deprived, thinking about what you gave up and waiting until you can get it back again. If I am just giving something up for 40 days what do I gain from that except 40 days of misery and self-denial (and maybe a few pounds of weight lost, which I’m probably gonna gain back after Easter anyway)? I spend the entire time being the person who trumpets how good I am because I “sacrificed” so much for Lent.

So now I try to approach the season of Lent in a different way. Whatever I do (or don’t do) I try to do in an intentional and prayerful way. What is going to be the end result of my Lenten discipline? What is my spiritual goal? If I do “give up” something I think of it more as pruning. On the corner where I catch the bus from work every day there is a rose bush. It produces beautiful roses for most of the year. Right now it is dormant but it will be blooming again, probably right around Easter or shortly thereafter. I have seen the people who manage the building cutting back dead wood, or buds that haven’t opened. This rose bush thrives long past the time when most flowers in Cleveland’s climate have stopped. When you have a plant that is overgrown and starting to get leggy or not producing good fruit, or leaves or flowers, you prune back the overgrown leaves and branches. In this way the roots can concentrate on growing deep and strong and nourishing healthy new growth. Likewise if I do take up a discipline of denial for Lent I am doing spiritual pruning. I am cutting back the mass of “stuff” that is choking my roots. I am not giving up something. Rather I am getting rid of something that keeps my roots from reaching deeper and growing stronger, something that distracts me from the need to be always striving to be closer to God and the need to always  be aware of my responsibility to God’s creation. At the end of the process hopefully my roots will be stronger and I will be better able to produce strong and healthy spiritual fruit.


  1. Toni, this is beautiful, and similar to how I think of the Yom Kippur fast. When did you become an Episcopalian? I became fascinated with the Episcopal church many years ago, when I started reading a lot of Madeleine L'Engle's work. There is an Episcopal monastery a short walk from where I used to work, very beautiful and old, and sometimes at lunch years ago, I used to go just quietly sit in their small sanctuary. Anyway, I wish you good and fruitful pruning!!

    1. Hi Susan,
      thanks. I've been an Episcopalian for about 10 years or so. It's been an interesting journey.