Why Does Lent Matter to Me?
By Christine Elizabeth
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday every year. It’s a time of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus. The question might arise, What does it mean for me?
If you’re Catholic you know no meat on Fridays, and focusing on prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. These are all external things, but what do they actually mean? And what could they mean for someone struggling with an eating disorder, depression, self harm, or any other kind of wound?
Lent can actually be extremely anxiety provoking for anybody, and then to add in any kind of struggle I mentioned above tends to make the anxiety worse. As a survivor of an eating disorder, depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm, and more, I didn’t feel comfortable with Lent for a long time. I thought I had suffered enough, and I honestly didn’t believe that Jesus had died for me. I just saw Lent and Easter as a moment in history that wasn’t personally connected to me. I can confidently say now that this was a lie.
In my sickness, I always knew that I enjoyed fasting or refraining from certain foods. I also had this fear of then over indulging and losing control of myself if I did fast. It was a double edged sword that I felt I couldn’t escape from. What was my solution? My support team told me not to fast. There are exceptions that excuse people in certain conditions from fasting.
I never once had someone question my lack of skipping a meal or taking less food. I did make sure to not eat meat, or sacrificed by getting a less preferred option for food. It was important in my recovery to keep my eating regular. It kept my blood sugar from dropping, and gave me a routine that I craved physically and mentally. I found that my sacrifice and fasting had to mean that I didn’t let my eating disorder run my life. I was giving up on something that wasn’t life giving, and giving surrendering to something that gave me a new life.
When it came to doing prayer or alms-giving (giving money to good causes), I struggled again. I think they are all connected. For example, I chose to battle against my eating disorder for Lent, and ultimately continued to do so for a very long time. If anyone knows what an eating disorder is like, we need more than one tool to overcome temptations.
I learned that adding prayer and giving of my time to others could be a way to participate in Lent. I haven’t always liked to pray, and there are still days when I forget to pray. I often felt like there was no point in talking to a God that I never really knew or met before. I felt like He didn’t hear me, and I was talking to a wall. Why would I keep going back to the chapel if I wasn’t being heard? I believe that God works miracles, and other times He allows us to see how strong we think we are without Him.
I started to see my recovery fall apart when my prayer life fell apart and wasn’t able to love anyone around me. I turned inward, and when I get stuck in my head it is not good. I never knew if I prayed the right words, or the right amount of time or if I wasn’t doing something wrong.
I learned that there isn’t one right way to pray. I had a lot of supportive people in my spiritual life to ask questions about God, the Catholic Church, and why we believe what we believe. I also saw in these people that they were just like me in some ways of their own suffering, but they had a joy in their hearts that penetrated deeply into my soul.
This is why I kept going back to the chapel, and why when I do fall out of the habit of prayer, I keep coming back. In the end, all we have is God, and He’s the most reliable, loving, and perfect Father.
Lent has been a game changer for my recovery every year. Lent is a time to practice getting our of ourselves and strive for Heaven. We are all saints in the making, even if you don’t believe it. Lent is a chance to heal. Last year, I was experiencing intensive trauma therapy during Lent, and I offered the challenges of that to God.
I knew I couldn’t do the therapy relying on my own strength. I offered it to God, because I needed His grace and love to carry me in my pain. When Christ carried His cross on the way to His death, He was carrying our sin and sorrow with Him. He knew exactly what each one of us would experience. He never wanted us to face our pain alone, so He gave His life for each of us.
If you were the only person on earth, He would have suffered and died just for you. That’s how much He loves you. That’s how amazing God is.
Lent is meant to be hard, but not in the same way for everyone. Most importantly, if you are struggling with your mental health it means getting the help you need and choosing something that is life giving in more than one way.
I have been recovered for 6 years and now I can fast on Fridays in Lent. I still seek to do a deeper healing ever year. What we heal and work on in Lent isn’t just over when Easter comes. We are meant to be changed in a more permanent way as we strive to grow in virtue, love, and holiness. The journey to who we are meant to be doesn’t end when we fail. Each moment is a chance to begin again.
P.S. You are enough.