When Lent Punches You in the Gut

Hope for those with unexpected suffering this Lent.

You had a plan for Lent.

Whether you wanted to give up one thing for 40 days, or everything for 5 minutes at a time.  Perhaps you planned to break a sinful habit or take up daily spiritual reading.  Maybe you started small, or maybe you launched a heroic sacrifice.

And then Lent punched you in the gut.

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It happens to me all the time.

Once, my kids repeatedly came down with unexpected illnesses.  Another year, our family encountered the tragic loss of a loved one.  This year I’m suffering from a bout of depression.

Within a week of diagnosis, my life underwent huge changes.  My doctor adjusted my diet, cut out sweets and caffeine, and forbade fasting.  My counselor gave me a daily “healthy mind” checklist which includes exercise, reflection, and achieving goals.  And on top of that, I’m supposed to find time for rest, hobbies, and keeping tabs on my unpredictable moods.

So I said, “So-long, Lent!”

But what I really meant was, “Hey, Lent, I didn’t see you there.”


Hey Lent, I didn’t see you there. Share on Twitter


Sometimes we get to choose our sacrifices.  We select a penance that we think we need in our life.  Something balancing the fine line between impossible and wimpy.

Other times, our sacrifice crashes into our life like a bird through the living room window.  Chaos ensues, and our own plans float out the open window and disappear before we notice they’re gone.

We may be tempted to feel like a failure.  We might think we let God down.  But the truth is: Lent isn’t something we can pack up all nice and tidy in a box.  It’s not something we can control.

Lent is about growing closer to Jesus through redemptive suffering.  Lent is transformative.

I thought my perfect sacrifice would do that for me.

But God knew better.

And in His perfect wisdom, He allowed the troubles of this fallen world to crash down around our heads.  Instead of feeling empowered by Lent, we feel surrounded by the storm of life.  We’re in danger of capsizing.

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But Jesus is here.

He’s walking on the rolling sea of turmoil that is our life right now.  He’s calling to us to step out into the storm.  To put all our faith in Him.  To keep our eyes on Him.  To trust Him to do the impossible.

It’s crazy and scary and messy.

But Jesus is here, and we’re in this together.  We’re flogged by the burdens of daily life with Him.  We’re dragging the heavy cross down the bumpy road with Him.  We’re dying to our perfectly planned idea of sacrifice, right up on the cross next to Him.


Jesus is here, and we’re in this together.  We’re flogged by the burdens of daily life with Him. Share on Twitter


When Lent punches you in the gut, lean into the pain.  You will find Jesus there.  He’s calling you through the storm.  Walking beside you in your suffering.  Sanctifying you through your shared sorrows.

He will transform you.  He will stretch you and change you in ways you never imagined.

And you will emerge from this Lent a new person.

I can feel it now.  It hurts and it’s exhausting and it’s scary.  But it’s a good hurt.  It’s a healing kind of tired.  It’s a hopeful kind of scary.

The pains are growing pains.

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So what if this Lent’s not going according to our plan.  So what if it’s not exactly all that we wanted.  The crucifixion wasn’t exactly what Jesus wanted, either.

But we know what happens 3 days after the Crucifixion.  We know where this Way of the Cross is leading.  We know how Lent ends.

It ends with the Resurrection.

With hope and beauty and renewed life.  Jesus will raise His hands and calm this storm.  He will draw us out of the darkness and into the light.  He will reverse this suffering and bring good out of it.

So trust in the the Father’s plan.  Step out in faith.  Let Him transform you.

He makes all things new.

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17 thoughts on “When Lent Punches You in the Gut

  1. Glad to read this! In our Endow group this week we talked a lot about the vice acedia (or sloth). It can be described as a spiritual laziness or not desiring the good. We discussed a lot how important it is to distinguish between true spiritual battles and mental illness, and that a disease of the mind is not a spiritual failing. I can see how Lent would be a particularly distressing time to be going through this! Sounds like you’ve developed a great attitude about it, and I’m so proud of you for speaking about it!

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    1. Thank you for sharing these wise words! It’s helpful to keep reminding myself of the difference, and I love that you point out “a disease of the mind is not a spiritual failing.” This was the big hurdle I had to get over, when I thought I was just being a lousy person, but in reality I was struggling with illness I needed real help for. Thank you!

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  2. This is just what I needed to read today. I have just brought my husband home from the hospital and he probably only has weeks left to live due to his leukemia. I feel so over whelmed. The statement to lean into the pain and that we will be transformed by this.

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  3. A a week before Lent started this year, I was hit with an intense bout of anxiety and agoraphobia. I just am now coming out of this. I totally understand a lot of what you are dealing with. So far this Lent I have managed to fast on Fridays but having to do a lot of self care. Plus I did not really get to finalize/plan what I was going to do. Hugs and prayers to you from me!

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  4. This hits very close to home for me. I have troubles with depression too and one lent I had a friend bring over a hot mocha to cheer me up on Ash Wednesday. I had to decide what to do. Give up my sacrifice or hurt my friend’s feelings…..

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    1. That decision is so hard! I’ve faced that one so many times… especially if I try to give up dessert, because we love to have friends over for dinner and go to their homes for dinner too. And it’s hard to say no thanks to a dessert someone made just for you. I will be praying for you, and I hope you will pray for me too.

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  5. My heart goes out to you, and I am so happy you are tackling your depression and seeking professional assistance in doing so!!

    I think many of us have had lackluster Lents so far, so this reminder that we are doing it *with* Jesus, for Him, is great. And, I think we are having the kind of Lent He wants us to have. Reminding ourselves we are not going this alone is always important, and to keep an eye on our end goal – His Resurrection on Easter Sunday – is a beautiful reflection!

    Great post, and praying for a fruitful duration of Lent!

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    1. “I think we are having the kind of Lent He wants us to have.” That is an amazing perspective. I will remember this when I’m tempted to feel the failure. Thank you for your prayers. I feel so much hope, and I am amazed at the growth every day since I started getting help and acknowledging the problem!

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  6. Thank you, this is me this year. I finally admitted to myself that my depression is not under control right now and I have to take care of myself before I fall even deeper into depression.

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    1. Admitting it was the hardest part for me. I felt like such a bad wife, mom, Catholic, person…. and then I felt a huge weight lifted when I realized I needed professional help. So much hope and promise when we begin treatment! I will certainly being praying for you, pray for me too! We are in the same stormy boat.

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  7. Thank you so much for this inspiring message and your writing. You are so in touch and through grace we pick up and do something to move that little inch closer to our Lord… through our failures we find forgiveness and learn we are human. Thank you, thank you.

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    1. “through our failures we find forgiveness and learn we are human.” Wow! Yes, this! Thank you for your comment and your encouragement! Going to be praying for the grace to move closer to Jesus through the suffering.

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