When someone mentions Lent, a few knee-jerk thoughts come to the top of my mind.
“What things in my life are holding me back from seeing God?”
“What are some things I can cut out of my life without giving up too much?”
“Will I not get into heaven if I cheat during Lent?”
“Is it okay to do things if I’m traveling or on Sundays?”
“Do I need to follow the rules exactly???"
If you’re like me, then you probably also thought Lent was only for Catholics and extremely orthodox sects of Christianity. But I was wrong!
Just a bit of a background:
- Lent is actually celebrated by many Christians regardless of sect, most notably by Lutherans, Methodists (hey, that’s us!), Anglicans, and Presbyterians (citation: Wikipedia).
- Lent is traditionally 40 days long to represent the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness when he was being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). But unlike Jesus, we end up failing. A lot.
- Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). The reason why people get cray on Mardi Gras is because they are doing all the things that they can’t do before they have to fast for the next 40 days. Eating ALL the fatty and delicious foods... hence FAT Tuesday.
- The apex of Lent is during Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter the following Sunday. Holy Week commemorates the time when Jesus enters Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), is crucified (Good Friday), then is raised from the dead (Easter Sunday, HALLELUJAH PRAISE THE LORD!!!).
- Lent doesn't have to be observed in one specific way! People choose to only give up something, but many others also choose to add something, typically a spiritual practice (such as doing a devotional specific to Lent. See the link I posted on Facebook).
The first time I ever did Lent was my freshman year in college. I didn't know what I was doing, ok? I decided to give up most social media and secular music. My thought was that this would give me more time to focus on schoolwork, but I also added the rationale that it would help me to focus on God by taking away the distractions and comparisons with other people that tend to happen over social media. It was really hard, and in the end, I’m not sure if I finished feeling like I had focused on God the whole time.
The second time, I decided to try something different, and I participated in a community project that featured a different activity each week of Lent. One week was to create artistic expressions about what God meant to you. Another week was to support a charity project by learning as much as you could regarding the issue then do something (practical) about it. It was cool.
The third time, I fasted. I fasted from lunch for a couple weeks, then I finished up Lent by fasting during daylight for a week. It was hard, and I was very grumpy. I also always ended the day by gorging myself on food, so I felt a bit guilty about that.
Anyway, what is the point of this post? Why should I even celebrate Lent? Let me summarize a bit of what I’ve been learning through my devos this past week.
A lot of the time, we think we have it all together. Life is going well, I’m making the grades that I want, I have plenty of money, etc. When we get caught up in these worldly things, we can easily lose sight of the reason for our existence. With Lent, we are forced to strip away something that’s of great value to us, something that distracts us and makes us think that we can do it on our own. By denying ourselves from the pleasures of the world, we allow ourselves to focus solely on Christ and how wonderful His sacrifice for us is. All of this is done in preparation for us to come together with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters and celebrate the resurrection of Christ, which symbolizes the removal of sin and the return of salvation.
Allen Yeh (Professor of Intercultural Studies & Missiology at Biola University) says it well when he says “we want Easter without Lent or Good Friday. We expect forgiveness without sufficient dwelling on our depravity, the utter wretchedness of who we were as 'sons of wrath’ and ‘children of disobedience.'” What this means is that we are so quick to accept the grace and blessings of Christ without pausing to consider the pain that He went through to allow us to even be here. Sometimes, we need these moments to reflect on such things. Through this, we are able to examine ourselves and cut out the things keeping us from truly seeing God.
Howard preached on this a few weeks back, but understanding God allows us to better discern what His plan for us is. When we learn to live and love the Gospel for what it’s worth, we are able see that God is loyal and faithful to the end. We are able to see the necessity of struggle in our lives. We are able to share our infinite joy with those around us.
But it all starts with quieting our hearts and really focusing on knowing Him.