Every year I have many people ask me “What is the purpose of Lent?” Why do we emphasize or practice something that isn’t found in the Bible?” What are the origins of Lent” and “isn’t it Catholic?” If you did not grow up in a main-line church (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist etc.) then Lent might be foreign to you. However, if you did grow up in one of those denominations, you see Lent as a 40-day focus on repentance, and removing the things that distract us from living a God-centric life.
Another way to put it is that Lent is a 40-day retreat that helps us realign with God. I don’t know about you, but I need as many opportunities as possible to realign my heart with the heart of God.
The Biblical connections would be the 40 day period that Moses encountered God on Mt. Sinai as well as the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert and was tempted by Satan. In light of the latter, that is why fasting has been a traditional part of the Lenten journey.
We miss the power of Lent, though, when we simply think we need to give up chocolate or something we like for forty days because it’s Lent…This misses the point and is a waste of good chocolate. When we desire to draw near to God, we ask His Spirit to reveal those things which continually negotiate for His attention and we choose to reprioritize that thing in our life so that God is first. Perhaps you do have an issue with food. Food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less. So if food is used for comfort, or dealing with stress or any other way to medicate your life, then food would be a good thing to fast from. There are, however, many things that get lodged into first place leaving God in the dust.
What is it for you? Sports? Movies? Alcohol? Sex? Power? Leisure? Bad Religion?
Or maybe it’s more subtle like, stress, anger, manipulation, blaming, negativity, hatred, self-hatred, fear, excuses, arrogance or even judging.
All of these things carry something that we like, even though on the outside we would think it wrong, but somewhere there is a pay-off, and that is why we keep doing them.
Yet, when we continue to live this way, unrepentantly, these things become the gods we worship, and they are vicious gods.
Lent is a season in the church that helps us as individuals, and as a community, rid ourselves of the sins that entangle, ensnare and sabotage our spiritual growth, and that is powerful.
As life is always a two-way movement of sorts, Lent, for me, is also a time of “adding to” not merely subtracting from.
What do you need to add into your spiritual journey this year?
How about Grace-giving, compassion, meditation, prayer, reading life-giving books, forgiveness, compliments, positive words to others, pursuing justice for the marginalized and oppressed, being a conduit of love to every person you come into contact with. Teresa of Calcutta said it well:
“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”
I think that the most beautiful moment of Lent happens when you do your soul work, realize that there is much shadow still inside of you, and yet experience the overwhelming and irrational love and grace of God. This kind of love knocks us off of our feet, makes our head dizzy and confounds the wisest in the world. This leaves us astonished, as Brennan Manning noted:
“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”
Grace and Peace…