Lent is for lovers.
“Lent is a time for discipline, for confession, for honesty, not because God is mean or fault- finding or finger-pointing but because he wants us to know the joy of being cleaned out, ready for all the good things he now has in store.”
― N.T. Wright
2018. The year Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday collided. As a woman dividing my allotted evening hours between seminary papers and dates with the many awkward men of the internet, I looked to February 14thand drank deeply of the holiday irony.
“The perfect snapshot of my life.”
But wait, a quick check of my calendar revealed the satire got even better—Easter would fall on April Fools this year.
The year for dead love awaiting foolish resurrection.
With a nod of appreciation to the divine maker of this universe, a God who is so very clever, I sighed and girded my loins.
I felt like the poster child for Lent this year. Filled with ambivalence about love, loss, death, and hope; I figured all I could do was accept my circumstances and receive their truth.
At Lent we often choose to refrain. Chocolate, alcohol, consumerism—all serve as common objects for denial. Rather than filling those cravings, Lent is a time when many seek to remember the love we need most and thank Jesus for what he gave to bring it. In a way, it’s an emptying of ourselves in order to make room to receive that divine love again.
Winter of 2018 found me in a pastoral care class with a professor encouraging me to embrace the middle ground of my life more often as opposed to my usual “all in/all out” mentality: a defense mechanism I employ to contain ambivalence and manage fear.
However, for a girl who happened to attend seminary with the man who had called off their engagement three years prior, polarized judgements held a lot of appeal and “middle ground” was not a concept I found myself particularly interested in.
If I had learned anything over the last three years, it was this: heartbreak does not swallow us.
It does not make our heartbreakers unworthy of love, nor does it damn us when we are the ones who have broken a heart.
Because love is less about keeping hearts whole and more about holding their broken pieces together. Perhaps this is why a Lenten Valentine’s has a place in our lives: there must be a day for removing the things that numb heartbreak to meet the Savior who looks to love broken spaces.
I spent a lot of time that February thinking about middle ground and what it meant to embrace it for myself. The thinking led to a fairly simple commitment: I wanted to start smiling when I happened to run into my ex-fiancé.
It was such a tiny thing. It was such a big thing to me.
Truthfully, my first smile attempt would fall under the category of epic fail. After eye contact was achieved, I forgot what to do with my face and ended up folding up my lips like one does when preparing to make an elephant sound to a child.
It was so terrible I actually emailed Aaron later that day to clarify my efforts: “I’d like to be better about smiling when I see you. Today was my first try, and I panicked. Sorry for the awkwardness.”
His response back went something like: “I know all about awkward. I think this is a great idea. I’ll smile to you too. :)”
So began our middle ground.
And so passed Lent, clicking by day by day.
I slid my way to Resurrection Day timid, unsure, fearful, determined. And each surprise passing with Aaron got a little easier. No words, just smiles. Blessing the middle ground.
Easter itself passed with many of the same traditions and practices as other years— resurrection songs, good friends, amazing food. And this year, I found singing songs of faith felt easier than years past, laughing with friends felt a little brighter, and being present to God’s love felt more like a gift and less like an ache.
On the way home that evening came a phone call. The week before, Aaron had emailed, wondering if it made sense to grab a drink and hear a bit about each other’s lives. I had agreed. This call was his follow-up: “I thought it might be wise to check on the ground rules for grabbing a beer.”
So we talked, and we laughed. We felt awkward and familiar all at once. And I found myself wondering if this was the memory of dead love or the glimmer of foolish resurrection.
But that’s a story I would unfold on another day, during another moment of believing in the middle ground.
It’s 2019 and we’ve all muddled through another Valentine’s Day. Now, we turn our eyes to spaces of lack, and we attune our bodies to places of hunger. Lent draws near, bringing it’s annual invitation, “What might we each release to make room to feel love again?”
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 29 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.