Recovering Lent…For The First Time

I did not practice Lent growing up.

I did not practice Lent for most of my adult life.

For a long time, I avoided Lent because “that’s what the Catholics do.”

I wish I would have started participating fully in the season of Lent sooner.

The church I attend has an Ash Wednesday service complete with the imposition of ashes. The sermon series will lead up to Resurrection Sunday, we will have children bring in palms on Palm Sunday, and we will spend the next 6 weeks fully participating in the season of Christ’s Passion.

Yet I feel that I am already starting to miss the point.

I missed the point historically for most of my life. Lent is a practice that pre-dates the Roman Catholic Church by a few hundred years. Scoffing Lent as a Catholic practice ignores the practice of millions of other Christians worldwide (any high church tradition and many low church traditions, as well).

I am in danger of missing the point this year for a different reason: Lent is not about me. Lent is not about what I give up. Lent is not about my sacrifice; my spiritual practice; my devotion.

Lent is about waiting.

Lent is about preparation.

Lent is about remembering how much in need we truly are; despite all of the material trappings we enjoy.

Lent is about grace and community.

Here is what I need to remember:

1. More than giving something up, I am trying to create space to deepen my relationship with God. A couple of years ago, I gave up caffeine. Part of that was attempting to make healthier decisions. Okay, MOST of it was making healthier choices. But I missed out on the intent of the fast. When dealing with the withdrawal or the urge for a cup of coffee, I would look for something decaffeinated with the same flavor (decaf coffee or caffeine free Dr Pepper—this is Texas, after all). What I should have been doing was taking the emotion and energy created by the craving and turning it towards God: spending time in prayer. I was basically looking for “fasting loopholes” instead of using the fast as a means to draw closer to God. Anybody can give a habit up for 40 days if they try hard enough. But can I grow spiritually during that fasting period?

2. I have a lot to give up; many of my friends have little to give up. The fact that I can debate with myself what I should give up this year is a testament to just how much stuff I have. I can give up a variety of foods or beverages. I can do without a multiplicity of technological options. I could choose to give up my main mode of transportation. In other words, I can give up something that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have never had the experience of owning. When I approach fasting, my privilege becomes much more apparent. I can give up things that many of my friends are likely to never have. As I approach this season of fasting, I can remember to be grateful for what I have. I can also remember I am connected with a community in need. I must look for ways to bless others with those things I have been blessed with.

3. It is only because of the grace of God given through Jesus that I have this opportunity. I can spend my time fretting over the origin of the practice of Lent. I can concern myself with who may or may not be participating. Or I can thank God for the gift of mercy. I can thank Him for the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. I can thank Him that sin and death no longer have the final word. This is not a season for arguing or justifying oneself. This is a season to remember, to wait, and to ultimately rejoice.

Whether it was in refusal to practice or in practicing with the wrong mindset, I have been missing the point of Lent.

This year, I want to give that up. I want to grow closer to God. I want to grow closer to my community. I want this season to lead me where I need to be.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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