Complaints and self-congratulatory statements. Those two phrases sum up my most prominent childhood memories of Lent, the forty day period beginning on Ash Wednesday, that many Christian denominations use to prepare for Holy Week.
As a kid that did not participate in these practices, however, what I recall of Lent had nothing to do with any sort of “preparation for Holy Week”. Instead, it seemed that my peers were more focused on themselves than normal. I could not, for the life of me, figure out its true purpose. I remember thinking “so what if you can go for 40 days without eating chocolate? What does that prove?”
Looking back, I now realize that there were probably many others around me that celebrated Lent by focusing on prayer, repentance, and self-denial.… but they were doing it in such a quiet, humble manner that I didn’t even know it. My friends were the only ones that I heard discussing Lent. And, well, they seemed to use those 6 weeks to either complain about the things they had chosen to “fast” from (and were simultaneously craving – things like candy, or their favorite soda, or any meat…besides fish,) or to congratulate themselves on how well they were doing in not succumbing to the temptations they’d pledged to avoid (things like swearing, or speeding, or wearing jewelry). Does this sound familiar to anyone else??
If you’re just observing a religious tradition, it won’t serve any purpose except to prove that you can go without something for 40 days. Lent is to be a time of preparation… when we make time and space in our lives to meet with God. A time to think about the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world (not the temporary sacrifice you may have chosen).
Rather than an observance, I want this season of Lent to be a true preparation time. I want to use this time to think on the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf. To think on the love He has for us. To think on how I live my life in response to His great gift. And when I make time and space in my life to meet with God, to think on these things, I am in His presence… preparing for what is to come!
“Rend you heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” Joel 2:13
“Come to this place, come seek His face
Find the hands of forgiveness
Look into the eyes of grace
Run to redemption with tears of joy and pain
Let fire fall and purify our hearts
Come to the altar, come to His arms”
Thoughts from Arnold Ytreeide on Lent:
- Rend your heart. If a better definition of Lent exists, I don’t know what it could be…. The point of Lent, or any other time of spiritual focus, shouldn’t be to follow a set of prescriptions and rules, it should be to seek a deeper understanding of and commitment to God. It’s not a time to check off days on a calendar; it’s a time to rend your heart, to do some spiritual housecleaning, to take a long, hard look at what’s inside you. A time to allow God to show you the work he’s ready to do in your life.
- Two simple tests you can use to check for proper motives when ‘giving something up for God’: (1) How many people do you tell that you’re giving up something for Lent? and (2) Is it purely a ritual for you, or a true act of devotion?
- If you want to ‘give up’ something for Lent, how about selfishness? Perhaps you could spend these forty-plus days asking God to help you find the root of your own selfish motives, actions, and desires, and then cut that root. It could be the start of something revolutionary in your life.