In Seminary I had a friend who literally fasted all of his meals for the 40 days of Lent… and for him, it resulted in a sweet time of commitment and deepening faith. He was sustained beyond the physical during that period of self-denial, and it was a transformative experience. I supposed the experience impacted me as well, as I remember it vividly these 20+ years later.
But sometimes, fasting is not a choice. Sometimes, illnesses or grief can rob us of physical hunger or the ability to eat, and we are left needing more than physical food to sustain us in times of heartache. We may long for comfort, peace, or companionship. There are times in life, where isolation and loneliness are not a choice - but a result of unimaginable loss. What does the Lenten Season offer to those who are experiencing a “wilderness” season or a “dark night of the soul” as a result of trauma or disaster? For people who have lost so much already, the thought of “giving up” one more thing for Lent may be unbearable.
I believe that Lent can be less about what we “have to give up” and more about tuning in to our Sustainer. Lent gives us the opportunity to connect - to be unconditionally loved and nourished just as we are. Spiritual nourishment may look a little different for everyone. For some, nourishment comes via reading a good book or taking time for prayer. For others, it can mean spending time in nature, taking a hike or a walk on the beach. Contemplative practices or creating art can also be restorative. Spiritual nourishment can come by way of gathering regularly with others, meeting with a spiritual director, or simply sharing a quiet cup of tea with a good friend.
What areas in your interior life are in need of sustenance? How do you experience deep nourishment? Pay attention to your answers, perhaps that is the Lenten gift that you can “give to” yourself, rather than “give up”.
Reframing the Lenten story can help us pay closer attention to those connections and supportive practices that can deeply feed and nurture our souls. If we can see beyond the testing of limits and attend to our deep spiritual nourishment, then this Lenten season can also be part of our healing journey… a time of restoration rather than additional depletion.
Marvel Hitson serves as ICTG's Director of Congregational Health & Trauma Chaplain.
Marvel has been based out of the Montecito Center alongside the HOPE 805 Team & other community partners supporting Santa Barbara County in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire and Debris Flows. She is currently working towards long term recovery through Riviera Care Center Project in collaboration with the Community Wellness Team.