I once described Advent as being the church year’s “angsty teenage phase.” The season of waiting seems conflicted and full of enough tension to embody that phrase.
But if that’s the case for Advent, then Lent is probably the church year’s midlife crisis. And, like real midlife crises, it doesn’t always come when we expect. This year Lent comes on the heels of Valentine’s Day, with the ashy cross marking our brows just four days after the dust from candy hearts will cross our lips.
Appropriate in some ways — crises often follow heartthrobs.
At 34, I’m too young for a midlife crisis. At least, that’s what I tell myself. But my heart throbbing within my chest won’t beat forever, and I don’t know when that last throb will come. Perhaps it is time for a midlife crisis. Perhaps the time is now.
When I kneel on Ash Wednesday for that mark of mortality, I do so with a throbbing heart. It gives thanks for life. It gives thanks for the lives of those I love. My heart gives thanks for breath and for experience. That moment of ashy, gritty, grace is one that never fails to make my heart jump and my head fall.
But it will also be a heart in crisis. For in taking a moment to be mindful of the gift of life, I’ll also become aware of how I’m using (or wasting) that gift.
And for 40 days I’ll sit with that question, the question of use and waste, and like my mothers and fathers of faith before me I’ll let Lent turn my faith community into an ark of salvation. I’ll look for pillars of cloud and fire among the deadness of winter, and I’ll battle the temptation to pretend God is not real, that faith isn’t useful, and that I’m strong enough on my own to do this thing called life.
Because the greatest realization in my spiritual life, after 34 years, is that Lent is not imposed upon me by the church calendar. Lent is imposed upon me by life … the church calendar just names it for me.
And if I can learn how to walk with God in these days of wilderness wandering, discerning the manna for the next 40 days to keep myself going, I will know how to navigate the wilderness of my real midlife crisis. Or, rather, all life crises.
Truly, we eat and drink on Fat Tuesday, for the next day we die. No. The next day we learn to live in such a way that we die well. That we die with Christ and find life both in crisis and on the other side of it.