As we approach Lent, I thought I’d post a few musings of what Lent is and isn’t, how to prepare for Lent and the journey that our family is going to take during this Lenten Season.
Not having grown up in a liturgical system, my view of Lent was “that-time-of-the-year-when-everyone-gives-up-chocolate”! I also saw the gluttony of the Mardi Gras celebration juxtaposed to the solemnity of wearing ashes on the forehead as strange and perhaps slightly askew. In all, I approached the season with critical eyes and disregard – thinking it unnecessary. However, as I began to learn about the Christian Calendar and the Story it tells, I began to see my need for Lent. Let me explain…
Lent is a 40 day period that commemorates the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. It begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at sundown on Holy Thursday. (Now I know there is actually more than 40 days during these two days, but the Sundays are not counted because they are always to be a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus!) With the words “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”, we are marked with ashes on our foreheads and are encouraged to enter a journey of repentance and searching our hearts. It is very much like an annual spiritual checkup.
“Lent is a time for “confrontation with the false self” (Thomas Keating) when we reflect on the responses and behaviors we exhibit that are least Christ like and seek God’s help in rededicating ourselves to God and God’s purposes. This is a time for self-denial and fasting when we give up some of the comforts of our lives in order to make ourselves more available to God.
Traditionally, Lent is marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Some churches especially in the Orthodox tradition, still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.” (Christine Sine)
So what should we consider as we travel this road to Lent?
1. Find an Ash Wednesday service to attend – (we attend a local Lutheran Church)
2. Ask the Lord what He might want you to fast from or perhaps add to your life for the 40 days of the Lenten Season. (I know people who fast from meals or certain foods, or some who fast from certain technologies or habits. One year, I felt the Lord telling me to “give up fear” – that was a crazy road to travel with God! Some people add acts of kindness to do each day.)
3. Spend some time in prayer and reflection each day asking God about the habits of your heart and, perhaps, areas of unbridled appetite.
4. Share what God is doing in you and revealing to you with some close friends who are taking a Lenten journey as well.