I Don’t Want To Do Lent This Year

Lent, Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:16 16-21, Mary Oliver, Reflection, Desert

Lent, Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:16 16-21,  Mary Oliver, Reflection, DesertAs I write this reflection it’s the third week in Epiphany and I’ve been thinking about Lent for a couple of weeks now. I am thinking about Shrove Tuesday; the pancake supper, the palms we will burn, and the ashes we will prepare for the next day’s liturgy. I am thinking about the fragility of life, mortality, and the ashes that will mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I am thinking about the Church’s invitation “to the observance of a holy Lent by forty days of self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” The old voices in my head are asking, “What are you giving up for Lent this year?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent and the truth is I don’t want to do Lent this year. Now maybe that’s something a priest isn’t supposed to say but I did and I mean what I said. I don’t want to do Lent this year. I don’t want to just get through Lent. I want Lent to get through to me. I want Lent to do me. So I’ve taken refuge in the first few lines of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
     love what it loves.”

Those lines encourage me not to approach Lent as just another program for self-improvement. They save me from embarking on a journey of self-punishment in hope of a divine reward. They caution me not to devote forty days of my life to giving up only to take back on Easter morning what I gave up. They confirm that I do not want to do Lent this year.

Instead, I want to discover “the soft animal of my body,” that tender, instinctual, and deeply human part of me that loves, the part that in the gospel for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21) Jesus calls the heart. I want to learn what it is I give myself to. What do I really love? What are my treasures? Where is my heart?

In the gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus reminds us that one’s heart and treasure cannot be separated. “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The heart follows one’s treasures. When I name my treasures then I will find my heart, that “soft animal” that loves.

That’s when I have to face up to myself and, for better or worse, acknowledge the treasures I have given myself to and the direction in which they have taken my life. It would be easier to be good, and less painful to “walk on [my] knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.” But I do not want to do Lent this year.

Some treasures are of lasting and eternal value, others are not. Some are worth holding on to. Others I need to let go of regardless of how much I think I love or need them. They are fool’s gold.

Learning to love and learning what to love, learning what to hold on to and what to let go of, that’s the real work of Lent. That’s when Lent gets through to me. That’s when I stop doing Lent and Lent begins doing me.


  1. Your thoughts bless me. I want Lent to do me also change the unnecessary things I carry. Thank you. They are so heavy!


  2. Yes I want Lent to do me too by helping me to let go the things that are not important in my life and adhere to the meaning of lent and its preparation for Easter.


  3. Your thoughts are always presenting to my heart and mind a way of thinking which challenges the old cliches and practices that I have believed. Thank you, Fr. Mike, for calling me/us to an honest Lent – a time of learning and growing, rather than merely “doing Lent.”


  4. “Not wanting to do Lent this year”
    “Letting Lent do me”

    This is what I’ve been trying to allow in my life for a while now! It is a huge challenge, indeed . . . a catharsis, leading one to the very depth of this “animal heart”, as you call your own heart!
    Remembering the words of Brother David in 1972 — quite a while ago indeed!
    “Don’t take a walk, let the walk take you!” Brother David

    It’s a life time’s work of Art! This Art of Letting Art do Me! It seems that in the painting of this portrait,
    without knowing how it will look in the end! What TRUST is needed, the Trust of being led, and done to, and transformed into the “original Icon” created in the mystery of the Garden of Eden!

    This “Art of Lent” is a sort of undoing and allow the Art to paint itself by an invisible hand! This is painful and joyful at the same time . . . Hoe so? Having a glimpse now and then, and the ultimate, “not knowing!”

    Let this cup pass from me Father, which in this unknowing feels like fatal abandonment! Not my will but yours be done! . . .

    What is it that is feared so greatly and yet hoped for so intensely? It is known somehow in the head, but does the “heart know it?”

    “Allowing Lent to do me this year” not knowing, and yet saying “YES” as Mary did at her Annunciation . . .
    Let it be done unto me according to your WORD!

    Thank you Father Mike for your reflections, which prompted me to interrupt my own silence.


  5. This is my first time reading your blog. You have inspired me to discover the real treasures of my heart during this Lenten season. I anticipate that I might rediscover a treasure or two that I have carelessly let slip away. I pray for the courage and discipline to become reacquainted with the soft animal of my body.


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