I am a words girl. Always have been. I spent many-an-extra-hours in various sympathetic math teachers’ classrooms, laboring with them over how to show my work on math problems that I could never fully wrap my head around the logic of. A geometric proof does what again? Solve for ‘x’ and for ‘y’? It was the ‘y’ that usually did me in. Beyond the simple plus and minus work of numbers, I never grew too comfortable around them. Oh but the words! Give me Native Son and a thesis statement and the freedom to craft thoughts and my mind felt like I was curling up with a soft blanket.
Given my unremarkable (dismal is more appropriate) history with numbers, I am, perhaps, the most shocked of all at how much counting I really do these days. I’m not finding square roots or making whole numbers out of fractions, but it seems like numbers are on my mind quite a lot.
I’m a counter. I count minutes and I count likes. I count children and I count approval. I quantify my day in so many ways—too many— forgetting that what I am often counting does not actually add up to anything real. I count accomplishments and I count failures, hoping that the former has more tallies in the column at 9:00pm. I count what I have based on what I see, and it is pride, and I sometimes count what others have, also based on what I see, and it is comparison. I’m always counting.
Today is the first day of lent: a sacrificial season of the liturgical calendar that holds the space of the 46 days before Easter Sunday. It’s a beautiful season for so many reasons, but one I have stripped of its meaning with the hint of ‘I grew-up Catholic guilt’ that still lingers, coupled with my relentless score-keeping. I’ve spent many a Lenten seasons subtracting: first it was ice cream, then sugar, next social media, and I’ve even gone for all television whatsoever. I’ve been rather crafty when it comes to my numbers during lent—technically Sundays are a respite from the 46-day total, and God knows it is also March Madness so all television besides sports became the rule. I gave up ice cream but made up for it in cookie dough. And sugar—never made it past 48 hours on that one. Add, subtract, put a few tallies in the “good” column, and call it lent; that has far too often been my stride through this season.
It seems I have been missing the point.
The Lenten season is about sacrifice, and it is equally about repentance. But I think above all, it is about getting serious with our own hearts about what we are waiting and counting for.
The arc of this 46 days ends at the cross. We hold the space between now and then with reverence and with an intent to know who God is through sacrifice, but what I am certain I have done wrong in all my counting is relegate the importance of those things to only, or mostly, these 46 days. Lent becomes a talking point or a challenge, a hashtag or something to accomplish, when really all it was ever meant to look like was me on my knees in humility, knowing that all my numbers could never add up to perfect.
But Jesus never asked for perfect, he asked for repentance. And I have so much to repent. The counting, the pride, the comparison, the lack of belief in the face of hard things, the lack of boldness in the face of wrong things. Choosing to scroll rather than open His word, choosing to vent rather than take things to Him in prayer. Making an enemy of my husband while I stand on the mountain of an issue that was only ever meant to be a discussion on how to sweep away the dirt in front of us. I could go on with this; I have to look no further than the day behind me to find my need for repentance. And it is a need far greater than 46 days.
I love lent because of the intentionality it brings, and I am even giving something up if only for the discipline to spend time with Him when I want to turn to that one thing. But mostly, lent is about repentance, sitting with my great need for, praising God that he allows it, learning about its pain and its beauty, about its grip and its freedom. Yes, lent is about repentance because life is about repentance. The arc of our lives ends the same place that lent does, at the foot of the cross. And my heart can hear Jesus leaning in and whispering, “Stick with what you know, Katie. Grab your words and come sit with me, because we have so much to talk about, and nothing to count.”