The quiet rage of Lent

Mar 8, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Carla Barnhill


I find myself in a season of loss. So many pieces of my life are shifting in ways that, while not unexpected, have knocked me off my feet a bit.

My kids are growing up and starting to move on to their next adventures. 

My parents are old enough that I get a little worried that every phone call from them is “that call.”

My own mortality is making itself known as my hair turns silver and my knees get creaky.

A few friendships have fizzled as priorities and personalities change.

Even my dog is getting a little grey around the muzzle, reminding me that neither of us are young pups anymore.

I know this is the road we all walk down, but that doesn’t make it any less alien when we find ourselves on it.

For the first few months, this change and loss felt weird – even temporary. But I’m increasingly convinced it is my new normal. Some days I can accept that this is just how life goes.

But most days, I fight against it. Hard.

That’s what we’re wired to do, after all. Resist the long fade into old age, resist change and loss. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” wrote the poet Dylan Thomas. Despite my best efforts to embrace these changes and acknowledge that this is how the circle of life spins, I am indeed raging.

Preparing for the season of Lent

As we prepare for the season of Lent, I realize this whole situation is about to get worse. Lent, it seems, is no comfort for anyone fighting a general funk. Coming after the hopefulness of Christmas and the bright days of Epiphany, Lent slouches into town like a huge buzzkill.

We kick off Lent with a reminder that we are dust. Over the course of just a few Sundays, we go from singing the Hallelujah chorus on Christmas Day to evicting the word and its attendant joy from our liturgy. Lent falls like a hammer, so it’s not surprising we are often loath to enter this season where sorrow and loss are, in fact, the new normal.

Lent asks us to notice the depths of things we’d rather skim over – death, grief, sacrifice. But skim we do. Instead an honest reckoning with sadness, we decide to give up sugar – and maybe lose a few pounds (!) – or practice mindfulness or spend a few minutes each day in a Lenten devotional as a way of marking the time until Easter.

Rather than facing the truth of Lent head on, we try to take it on sideways; nudging at it the way you elbow that person sitting too close to you at the dinner table. We ask it to skootch over so we can stay comfortable. We are, frankly, a little passive aggressive about the whole thing, pretending that we can avoid the pain of Lent if we just look the other way.

But isn’t this really its own kind of raging against the inevitable?

In the same way I try to find the silver lining in my silver hair, the need to make something useful out of Lent is our way of pretending the loss isn’t there. We rage against the call to turn and face the story of Christ’s death head on. We rage against Lent’s insistence that we pay attention to the awfulness of this story. We rage, rage against the dying of those earlier lights and their comforts.

We can rage all we want, but Lent won’t let us turn our heads. It tucks its hand under our chins and inexorably turns our eyes towards the truth of our human condition, flecked and veined as it is with the futility of our rage, with the dryness of our bones, and the deep hurts in our hearts.


Lent is a season that isn’t coy about how it ends

Lent makes us acknowledge that the life we think matters – the one we’ve worked so hard to craft and mold into something shining and worthy – is not actually the life we should be tending to. This life, Lent tells us, is fleeting. No wonder we want to look away.

We don’t know how to process loss very well.

Its grief, its changes, its newness and uncertainty, its regret and wistfulness.

It’s so many mixed emotions that we would rather avoid it.

But if we let it, Lent can show us how to sit in loss. It can help us see a path – not a clear or smooth one by any means, but a path just the same – through the reality of life’s continual losses. 

It can show us what we need to set down or shed or lose in order to find our way toward the life God calls us to. Loss, change, grief – they are not a new normal for any of us. They are the most normal, the most universal, at once the most human and the most divine of experiences.

The Lenten journey is one that invites us to rage, not against dying, but against the false belief that there is anything else.


As we prepare for the season of Lent, check out this video with Carla, where she offers more insight into the season and what it means to you as a Christian.


Topics: General Ministry

Carla Barnhill

Written by Carla Barnhill

Carla Barnhill is the vice president and publisher of Sparkhouse and the creator of the Dialogues On series of adult small group resources that help churches have challenging conversations around important topics.


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