Lent: What’s the point?
A transformative perspective.
By: Audra Mrini MA, NCC
Resident in Counseling
When I was a child, I used to dread lent. My parents would “strongly encourage” me to give something up. I interpreted that to mean sacrificing something I loved, usually chocolate. I would succumb to this task for a few days. Soon enough the chocolate crept back into my routine. “What did this all mean anyway?” and “What’s the point?” I would ask myself. Those questions remained unanswered into my teen years at which time I gave up this Lenten tradition. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I gained insight into those questions. A trusted friend explained that Lent was an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with God. The tradition of fasting could be used. Each time a craving or urge came on…talk to God in prayer! Chocolate cravings would come on often therefore offering many opportunities to talk to God. This was meaningful and helpful for a few years and enabled me to grow in my relationship with God and others. As the story of my life continued to unfold, I found myself seeking more. Seeking led me to learn that fasting is not the only Lenten practice. Opportunities are available to add new experiences and practices during Lent in order to strengthen a relationship with God. One can add something in, not just take something away. What a revelation!
And yet another opportunity!
In more recent years, I have been reading Richard Rohr’s books about contemplative prayer, amongst other things. Contemplative prayer provides us the opportunity to listen, be present with, and connect with God in new ways. Rohr talks about a true versus false self that we learn to distinguish between through contemplative prayer practices. Many, if not most, of us walk around with false ideas about who and what we are. “Your false self is how you define yourself outside of love, relationship, or divine union” (Rohr, 2016). This false self is often rooted within us through faulty messages we have heard from caregivers and other influential sources over the course of our lives. Rohr(2016) likens the True Self to a diamond, buried deep within us, formed under the intense pressure of our lives, that must be searched for, uncovered, and separated from all the debris that surrounds it. It is the soul of who we are. In a sense the True Self must be resurrected. That process is transformational! These descriptions have resonated with me and drawn me to the practice of contemplative prayer that I decided last year to begin as my Lenten practice.
What does this have to do with counseling?
People come to counseling for many reasons. Many come seeking support, comfort, to work through challenges, and to deal with pain and suffering. When someone decides to come in for counseling it takes courage. It means facing things that are often painful, scary, and difficult. In my work with clients, I am honored to observe their courage as well as to journey with them. Often our work involves exploring what are the obstacles to growth. This often leads to learning about how to live with purpose and find meaning in our experiences that make up the story of our lives. When we begin to look at our story this way, we begin to see that we can be transformed by our pain, suffering, and challenges. Lenten practices can provide this same possibility for transformation. We have the chance to look at what challenges us and the obstacles that keep us from drawing closer to God and others. When we are intentional, as we are in the process that counseling, Lent and contemplative prayer offer, we can learn, grow, and be truly changed.
Consider this final thought
Richard Rohr states the following in his book Immortal Diamond: (http://store.cac.org/Immortal-Diamond_p_23.html). The True Self is the divine within us that lets us know we are known and loved for who we are and allows us to know and love others for who they are. When I sit with people in their pain and we work together to seek a way through it, I hope that they feel known and loved for who they are. In the safety and comfort of the counseling relationship, people can take in this experience and use it as a bridge to fulfilling relationships with others in their lives.
Do you struggle to find meaning in the practices of Lent? Are you suffering or facing difficult challenges? Do you feel like you want to be known and loved for who you are? Please know the counselors at Center for Pastoral Counseling are here to help and journey with you towards the transformation you seek.
To read the entry about the false and true self visit: https://cac.org/true-self-false-self-week-1-summary-2016-08-06/
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