I used to laugh at the observance of Lent, but then one year I actually gave up sweets and alcohol during the season (and lost 10 pounds… but that’s not the most important thing I got from the whole exercise).
Who knows what everybody’s motivations are. The idea of giving up stuff for Lent seems to be viewed a lot like having New Year’s resolutions.
You feel guilty after Fat Tuesday and generally punting on your New Year’s resolutions, so Lent’s a good time to reset by focusing on giving up one culinary pleasure: chocolate, beer, sweets in general, red meat, etc.
Some folks go a different route and decide to hit church every Sunday during Lent. Easter provides a final destination, and it’s only a month and a half of Sundays for a couple hours. Easy peasy.
Since I can’t know others’ motivations and I won’t be able to make a solid ‘pro’ argument to my formerly Catholic, now Protestant, friends who shiver a bit at any high church, liturgical traditions, I’ll share a little from, you know, my heart.
A (Very) Brief History of Lent
Some form of fasting practice prior to Easter was first referenced in the writings of St. Ireneaus some time prior to the year 202. When Christianity was legalized after 313, the tradition became more established.
There are some pretty big differences as to dates and numbers of dates and so forth among various ancient Christian traditions, but they all share the same general theme: preparing the heart for Holy Week and the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I spent two years as a youth pastor in an Episcopal turned Anglican Mission in America Church back at the turn of the century (it’s fun to say that). Outside of very vague memories of my Lutheran childhood, those are the only two years I’ve spent in a traditional Christian denomination.
I attended a Pentecostal church in high school and have mostly settled into nondenominational Baptist-y type churches since then. Consequently, there’s not been a big Lenten push from the preachers in most of the churches I’ve been a part of.
For some reason, though, this season has grabbed me. I don’t sit in sackcloth and ashes or do any major fasts, but the older that I get and the more rapidly the earth seems to move under my feet, Lent provides an opportunity to slow down and deal with distractions.
An Opportunity to Ask Questions
- What is really important to me emotionally and spiritually?
- What do I really need materially?
- What do I need physically? What will encourage health? What will slowly kill me if I don’t bring it under control?
- Of course, how much have I really been reflecting on my faith? For lack of a better way of putting it, how in love am I with Jesus?
The main thing that my recent observances of Lent (and any season where I commit to stripping a few things away) have revealed is that when I get overwhelmed, I have a few crutches I lean on – not all of them healthy.
It’s amazing how the practice, even doing something simple and motivated slightly by vanity, reveals some ugly bits in my heart. It’s amazing how quickly I reach for a snack when I’m having attitudinal issues. It’s amazing how TV is a welcome distraction when certain projects and cares of the world seem impossible (and I’m not talking about one of my children being horribly sick, but something like a bathroom tile project). And yes, I can shout ‘wine time’ as well as any of those snarky mommy bloggers out there at the end of a tough week.
Lent offers a line in the sand and an excuse to remove one or more of these crutches for a bit. I shouldn’t need the excuse, but I guess I do.
Why Just One Time a Year?
Should I be more reflective and commit to consecration more than one 40 day period a year? Sure I should. There are other times that I do, whether anybody knows it or not.
Is it dumb to go through this exercise just because it gets bad press as being silly to remove chocolate, beer or sitcoms for a few weeks? I don’t think so. Not at all.
We can use the practice, even if a new good habit (or a dropping a bad habit) only lasts for around 40 days. Most of us could use the practice. And the older I get, the more I realize none of us approximate perfection nearly as much as we think we do.
Any quality effort toward developing a deeper relationship with God or becoming a generally better person (whatever that means) should always been encouraged.
So here’s to Lent (I’m raising a glass of water because I’ve given up all other liquids – kidding)!
I’d like to challenge you:
Even if you have no faith-based dog in this fight, consider thinking about your absolute top priorities and values.
Focus, for the next 40 days, on the things that are core to who you are and what is most important to you. Don’t stress about attaching a higher purpose or a spiritual component to it if that’s not where you are. But see if you can remove a few things that don’t help you focus on those top priorities and values.
Maybe you’ll get something out of the exercise. I think you will.
By the way, the word “Lent” comes from words that mean spring. That’s when things get to start all over.
In the comments below… If you’d like to share, drop a note if you’re (a) celebrating/observing Lent and (b) what practice you might be taking on or avoiding during the next few weeks. Or (c) if you think it’s all dumb and why.