Reflecting on Lent, Distraction, and Holy Week

A few raw, but not-yet-fully-formed thoughts on my experience with Lent this year in preparation for Easter.

We are now coming to the end of Holy Week, remembering the final days of Jesus’ life on earth, reflecting on the meaning of his journey to and death upon the cross, and anticipating the glory and hope of His resurrection. 

But before I can fully enter into these last few but deeply meaningful days of Holy Week, I’ve noticed an internal need to reflect upon this Lenten season, to do a little heart-excavation on my experience of the last 40+ days. 

This year, I decided to be ambitious and give up several things for Lent, among which was watching TV (which didn’t last long…more on that below) and Instagram. Both Bryan and I decided to charge our phones in the living room at night, so we wouldn’t be tempted to look at them first-thing upon waking each morning. My hope was to replace the time I spend scrolling, reading news articles (that often only make me angry), and mindlessly numbing out on the same favorite TV shows ("Parks and Rec” or “The West Wing,” anyone?) with more reading, more conversation with my husband, and more time devoted to activities that are actually restorative rather than simply distracting. 

Here’s what I've learned: I really, really like being distracted. And even if I remove one or two major distractions from my daily life, I will find a way to replace them with others. I’m one of those people that flees discomfort and inner conflict and looks for the nearest available distraction. And I’m an expert at distracting myself.

I’ll be honest—I didn’t make it more than two weeks before giving in and watching TV, and I downloaded Instagram back onto my phone a few days ago. And I’m realizing why this was so hard for me: I don’t particularly like the space that is created during Lent. It throws me off, forces me to examine what it is that I’m avoiding or wanting to be distracted from. And there is plenty that I’d like to be distracted from—longing, fear, uncertainty, and disappointment, to name a few. Actually leaning into these things, and the feelings attached to them, is uncomfortable. This week though, with Easter approaching, I’m doing two things: 1) noticing what’s underneath the desire to be distracted, and 2) asking the Lord to sit with me in my discomfort, longing, fear, and disappointment. And our sweet Jesus is meeting me there.

Somehow, doing those two things have re-sensitized me to the significance of Holy Week. Today marks the first day of the Triduum in the church calendar, or the three days leading up to Easter: Maundy Thursday, the day that we as the church remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet during the Passover meal, Judas’ betrayal, and Jesus’ agony in the garden as He cried out to the Father before His arrest; Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ journey to and death upon the cross; and Holy Saturday, in which we sit in the discomfort of our brokenness and need for Jesus, and anticipate His resurrection on Easter Sunday. 

This year, I’m feeling the weight of my need for Jesus in a unique way to years prior. I’m recognizing patterns of self-centeredness and avoidance, even avoiding Jesus Himself. There are times when I’d rather distract myself than enjoy the blessedness of my relationship with Him—and He paid the greatest price that I might know Him as the Lover of my soul! It’s painful for me to admit that sometimes, I’d rather avoid my God than rest in the warmth of His presence. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want to be exposed in His gaze, or because I don’t want to take ownership for my brokenness, or perhaps it’s just because I’d rather be in charge of my time and my decisions than surrender to the leading of His Spirit. Being the lord of my own life sounds great in theory (and goodness knows that’s the message we hear 10,000 times a day), but in practice, I know it leads to further emptiness, fear, isolation, and restlessness. The reasons I’m seeking distraction will only spiral and multiply. The peace that I crave isn’t found in avoidance; it’s found in communion with my God. It’s in stopping to catch His gaze upon my soul. It’s in remembering that I’m fully known, wholly loved, totally safe. 

The wildest part is that God gets it. Jesus, God Incarnate, knows the depths of my human experience. He knows my propensity for distraction, just like He knows what it feels like to be separated from perfect union with the Father. He cried out upon the cross as He felt abandoned by God, quoting the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And all so that I could be restored to union with Our Good Father. 

I feel the Lord beckoning me to taste and see the goodness of communion with Him again. I sense His sweet invitation to sit in the safety of His presence, and to respond in gratitude for all He has endured. As I prepare for tomorrow’s somber Good Friday service, and then for Sunday’s exuberant Easter celebration, I pray I can see the beauty of the resurrection with fresh eyes. I pray I can say “yes!” when Jesus patiently asks me to be with Him in our quiet place. 

So there you have it — an honest, but not-yet-fully-formed reflection on my experience this Lenten season.

What have you learned in this season? How has the Lord met you in a Lenten practice, in Holy Week, or in recent days? I invite you to spend a few minutes reflecting upon that in prayer, and see what the Holy Spirit might say to you. 

May you know the height, breadth, depth, and length of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus this Easter!