I don’t know how many times I said to myself when our children were growing up, “I wish I could freeze this moment, or this stage of life, and just hold on to it for a little longer.” This desire is not exclusive to parenting. Any time we are in the middle of a wonderful experience whether it be a meal with friends, a special trip, a retreat, or a beautiful experience in nature it is natural to want to freeze time and hold on to the experience as it it too precious to let it go. We have all learned by now that it is, of course, impossible to hold on to people, time, or experiences, and yet, the longing remains. Letting go, emotionally and spiritually, is hard work, and yet we have plenty of opportunities to practice as we seek to let go of the past and to not become overly attached to the present.
If we need a reminder of how futile it is to hold on and freeze time, all we need do is simply look in the mirror, or look at a photograph of ourselves from a few years ago. It is impossible not to notice that we have changed. This week, for those who observed the celebration of Ash Wednesday, there was an additional reminder of the transitory nature of this life we live together. On Ash Wednesday, a sign of the cross is made with ashes on each person’s forehead, accompanied by these words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Thus we are reminded that our physical lives are temporary and all the opportunities we currently have to practice letting go are but a prelude to the ultimate act of letting go, of that time when one day our physical bodies will indeed return to dust.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian celebration of Lent, a season of 40 days that concludes with the celebration of Easter. There is a long tradition of people giving something up for Lent. More recently there has been a focus on ‘taking something on’ for Lent, such as taking on some kind of practice that will strengthen one’s spiritual, emotional, or physical well-being. If you are a person who observes Lent and finds that giving something up or taking something on works well for you, then you have probably already made a decision to do one of these things. I would be delighted to hear from as to what you are either giving up or taking on this year as I am always curious to learn about the creative ways that people find to observe Lent.
Now if you are looking for another way to observe Lent besides giving something up or taking something on, I highly recommend a third approach, and that is to focus on the discipline of “letting go for Lent.” Letting go for Lent can take many forms. It can mean letting go of a need to control a situation or a person and instead being open to and being curious about other ways of doing things. Letting go for Lent can also mean letting go of our need to be right, which might include letting go of resentment or long held grudges.
Letting go for Lent can also mean letting go of both the busyness and hurriedness that can gradually control our lives, slowly crowding out any time to re-create and renew ourselves. Letting go for Lent can also mean letting go of possessions which can clutter our lives.
Finally, letting go for Lent can mean fully embracing the passing of time in our lives, letting go of the desire to freeze a period of time or hold on to what was or is. As wonderful as the past may have been, the ability to let it go frees us to open our hearts and souls to the wonder of this present moment in our lives, even on the occasion when it might not be what we expected or wanted. Learning to live fully into the present moment means to affirm the fact that there is much to be grateful for in every moment, in every stage of life.
The title of our Living Compass daily meditation booklet for Lent is “Renew a Right Spirit Within Me” because that is the goal of any Lenten practice. So whether you choose to give something up, take something on, or practice letting go for Lent, may these next 40 days be a time of renewal for you.