By Anna Fleig, Guest Contributor
Has anyone ever noticed that Lent and the tax season happen concurrently? That is, the season of Lent generally begins after businesses are required to send out W-2’s and 1099’s, and regularly ends before tax day. The specific dates of some Lenten seasons are an exception, but generally speaking, the seasons of Lent and taxes happen at the same time during our calendar year. You may not have noticed this if you’ve never worked in the financial industry, but in these United States, the two are linked together in time.
It’s easy to miss, really. For some of us, we get our forms in the mail on February 1st, and then they sit around somewhere in a pile marked “important papers” until April 14th. For others, we prepare our tax returns almost immediately, perhaps playing some twisted version of refund roulette where we hope and pray that some money is coming back to us, only to find out that come April 15th we are going to have to pony up the equivalent of a mortgage payment to square ourselves with the IRS. In ministry, as well as many other professions, tax season can be even more stressful if we haven’t been diligent enough to set aside money throughout the year for the annual expense.
For those who did not grow up in traditions that observe the season of Lent, we most readily associate this time with fasting—giving up something that should be difficult for us to let go of, something that will stretch us in meaningful ways to live without. In his statement on Lent this year, Pope Francis entreated people to give up their indifference toward others. This is a great message, and one that I wish people would participate in well beyond the season of Lent. What many of us might not know, however, is that Lent is not only a season of fasting, but also a season for engaging in new spiritual practices and for giving time and money to the needy.
So, how are taxes and Lent connected with each other? On the surface, they aren’t. That is, we have this whole separation of church and state thing going on which means that in theory the two have nothing to do with each other. Except that in practice, at least for some of us, they can.
Lent is a time of reflection. It’s a time to prepare ourselves spiritually for remembering the events of Holy Week and participating in the joyful Easter celebration. Hopefully, our spiritual preparation is something that crosses over into the secular moments of our lives. If our spiritual preparations do not impact our ordinary day-to-day existence, if they don’t cause us to move toward action in ways that matter, then what is the purpose?
It may feel like a stretch to some to suggest that we can approach tax preparation prayerfully as a new spiritual practice. Yet, this particular activity gives rise to all the possibilities for stretching us during the Lenten season and beyond. Rather than approaching taxes as another nuisance that must be done once a year, there is opportunity to reflect on how the process is important. Pope Francis calls us to fast from our indifference toward others. Building on this, I ask that when preparing your forms you keep a mind toward all those in our society who benefit from the programs that arise from our collective work. Looking to the practice of giving, I also urge all those that will receive refunds to make donations to organizations that serve those in need. And finally, I encourage us all to incorporate the spiritual practices around this particular financial event into our every day lives, deepening our understanding of how our financial selves are intimately woven into our spiritual selves.