Soaking in Lent

by Kristin on March 5, 2014

in Belief, doubt & hope


Saying “I’m not in a very good place for Lent” is a bit like saying “Winter is cold in the North.” Yes, it’s true every year—but it has been bitterly true this year.

Most of this problem (the Lent problem, not the winter problem) can be blamed on my personal misconceptions about the season: that it’s a big, sad apology fest—a time set aside for the likes of me to make up for all the ways I’ve messed up and haven’t been good enough or sorry enough since last Easter.

Yes, I’ve certainly messed up in the past year, but it’s also been a year that has left me feeling particularly wounded. And when you’re feeling wounded, a big apology- fest—taking on the blame—is like so much salt in the wounds. To be perfectly honest, I’m sort of feeling like God should be apologizing to me—or at least he should go first. I always go first when one of my daughters and I have gotten into a snarly tangle we’ve both played a part in. I go first because I’m bigger and wiser—because I know how important apologies and forgiveness are, and because I want to set an example. God is clearly even bigger and better at these things than me.

But maybe Lent isn’t all about apologizing for the messes of the past year. Maybe I need to reframe it. My friend Micha Boyett, for example, describes Lent in her recent blog post not as a “big, sad apology fest,” but as an invitation to sit together in the mystery—to be in a place where we can prepare for the healing Easter brings.

“…how do we clean those wounds before covering them? How do we sit in the sting for a while so that we can move into the healing?… We are invited to let Lent clean the wound so Easter can bring the healing.”

Micha’s use of wounds as a metaphor sits exactly right with me. I feel battered, wounded. No wonder the thought of devoting a season to being extra sorry doesn’t appeal. No wonder I’m not warming up to anything that smacks of blaming the victim—of feeling like I somehow messed up and now it’s on me to fix it.

Thinking about wounds brings to mind one I had on my finger a few weeks ago. A tiny crack in my cuticle became infected—badly enough for my entire finger-tip to turn bright pink and swollen for nearly a week, throbbing with pain even when it wasn’t being used or getting bumped. (The many times it did get bumped sent shocks up my arm). Perhaps I should have gone to the doctor, but I turned first to the Internet, which led me to the conclusion that pretty much the only thing I could do was soak my finger in warm epson salt “baths” three times a day, then keep it covered and protected from further damage while I waited for it to heal.

Maybe Lent—especially Lent this year, for me, for many of us—is like an extended epson salt soak. For my infected finger, it wasn’t an instant fix, but the salt soothed and comforted it, surrounding the hurt in warmth. The soaks also provided time for my finger to be removed from the rigors of life—from the many everyday moments when life bumped up against me, reminding me of the existence of my wound. And at the risk of pushing this metaphor too far, I’m going to add this thought that popped into my mind: Tears are also salty in nature, and pain and healing are often part of a single process.

Sometimes (often!) we need special care, and hope that healing is on its way. If that’s the invitation to Lent that your weary heart needs this year, I hope you will join me for a healing soak.

*  *  *  *  *

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

- Isaiah 61:1-3a

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  • Stephanie S. Smith

    Oh, oh! I love this. Probably especially because I have terrible posture problems and epsom salt baths and chiropractor visits are lifelines sometimes. I often think, though, how physically “resetting” is like spiritual resetting in a way—I need to be straightened out often, and I can’t get too frustrated with my own need to keep coming back..and back…to the Table. Like you’re saying here, you can’t rush that kind of healing.

    • kt_writes

      Thank you, Stephanie! I love what you’ve added to these ideas—that physically resetting is much like spiritual resetting. It takes time, and repeated correction. (I frequent the chiropractor’s office, too!)

  • RonSimkins

    Hi Kristin,

    I very much appreciated your slant on Lent. Not that I don’t have things to
    be sorry for, but that only seems to be productive for a short time. Face
    it, ask for forgiveness, make restitution if possible, and move on in a better direction seems to be far more productive than wallowing in my failures and weaknesses. In fact, I think that is the Biblical meaning of “repentance.” And, can’t “repenting” (turning from and turning toward) be turning from focusing on the pain and turning toward focusing on the source of healing?

    I too know a lot of people for whom this year has been a very difficult one – for
    some even a series of “snakebitten” events that just kept coming. So, I think you are right, for each of you who had that kind of year this season should be a “healing salt water” season for bathing the wounds and praying for the healing balms. Good words and a great image that you shared..

    PS – I do think God has apologized for allowing the broken part of this world that
    God hates as much, and more, than we do. God apologized and took
    responsibility when God allowed this brokenness, and the injustice of it all,
    to fall on the head of the human being who had “done it right” and
    really trusted God — at the crucifixion of Jesus. This was
    God’s apology for letting people hurt unjustly. God showed that God hurts
    with us in spades And, for those who say: “But God let Jesus suffer, God didn’t suffer.” As a parent who loves my children, I say that hurting as a parent who knows you cannot intervene and fix it for a child you love hurts at least as bad as the child is hurting. Often worse!

    Thanks again for sharing an inspiring challenge and reminder – as you so often do in
    this blog.

    • kt_writes

      Ron, I love this: “And, can’t “repenting” (turning from and turning toward) be turning from focusing on the pain and turning toward focusing on the source of healing?” Absolutely! Thank you for teaching me about these ideas and conversing with me along the way.