Seriously, I am giving up President Trump for Lent.
I know, Christians are supposed to give up something pleasurable for Lent, like chocolate, beef or beer. To abstain is a practice of self-denial, a small way of reminding believers about the suffering and death of Jesus as we move toward Holy Week.
There is, however, another possibility for Lenten practice. In recent years, more of my friends have taken something distracting out of their life to add a practice that is more life-giving. For instance, people leaving social media for Lent and replacing time spent online with reading spiritual books, journal writing and prayer. Others give up television for hiking or eating out at restaurants for gardening.
Replacing a time-consuming distraction with an often-ignored practice is not necessarily about denial. Instead, this kind of choice balances us, putting us back in touch with slower, more intentional ways of life. We only have so much time in a 24-hour day. Lent offers the opportunity of considering how and on what we spend that precious resource.
For the past three months, I had gone to bed thinking about the president and often woke up in the morning doing the same. I realized my soul had been politically colonized, and that it was taking huge effort to think and talk about other things with family and friends.
So, how do I say goodbye to President Trump for Lent?
I do not intend to isolate myself at such an important moment in our nation’s history, since ignorance is dangerous. Instead, I plan to engage in strategic reading — I will not read or listen to just anything. Instead, I plan to read “around” Trump. I will skip stories that are solely or mainly about him. If the story is about an important issue and he is part of it, however, I will read and focus on the issue, not the person. Long-form journalism, well-researched articles from respected sources, will replace watching cable news.
I do plan to watch local news and the old-fashioned half-hour network news at dinnertime. Otherwise, I’ve limited television to home improvement and food shows, PBS programs, sports and movies.
The purpose of Lent is to spiritually rebalance our souls, and to make room for what is important. Not thinking about the president actually gives me more time and energy to engage in local politics. My neighborhood has started organizing groups to resist Trump’s agenda, and more than 300 people are already involved. That’s a bigger group than some churches! Like many suburbanites, I have never really spent time with my neighbors. This Lent, I plan to get to know them more.
And I am writing a book on gratitude. As part of the writing process, I have been keeping a daily gratitude journal. Instead of spending time consuming fear-inducing news, I am looking for both blessings and ways to say “thank you,” which is deeply challenging in the current political environment. But I have slowly been learning that gratitude is a corrective to feelings of anger and fear. Making more emotional room for gratefulness is an important spiritual practice these days.
That is my Lent: practicing political engagement and practicing gratitude. And I have been learning that they intersect. Sadly, my neighborhood already has been in the news. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents targeted Rising Hope United Methodist Church, a nearby congregation with a homeless shelter, in a recent immigration sweep. It is deeply gratifying to see how people have rallied to support the church, to pray with them, and how this has opened a new conversation about issues of diversity and inclusion in Alexandria’s Route 1 corridor. Yes, the president is connected to this story. But we have discovered that immigration is not really about him. It is about us, about paying attention, about neighborliness and about the soul of our own community.
So yes, I will still be reading stories that involve Trump, but he will not be the focus of my activity this Lent. Politics is about finding new connections between people and working for the common good. If I stop fretting over a single individual, I can be more engaged in creating a community where love of neighbor matters. That is the purpose of Lent: giving up distraction and finding space for what gives life.
And for that, I am grateful.
Diana Butler Bass is an award-winning author of nine books, including her most recent “Grounded: Finding God in the World — A Spiritual Revolution” (Harper 2015).