During the first part of my Christian life, I did not know about the church calendar and I did not observe Lent. In fact, I was confused about its meaning and thought of it as something only Catholic and Orthodox people did. My only exposure to it was that I’d hear classmates moaning about it in the school cafeteria.
I just didn’t relate. Although I knew there was benefit in fasting, a formal yearly fast was foreign to me and my mistaken belief that it was all about concentrating on my own sinfulness made it hard to embrace. In my mind it was similar to the practices of medieval monks who whipped themselves with cats-of-nine-tails.
But as for me, I believed in grace. Sure, I sinned. but when I repented, I knew I could expect God’s forgiveness. I didn’t have to punish myself with a whip. Nor did I need to train myself with abstinence. I believed that through God’s grace He was at work in me both to will and to do his good pleasure. I didn’t need Lent – or so I thought.
And then I discovered that, not just Catholics observe Lent. People from some other denominations do, too. And after much reading and a little practice, I began to realize what I’d been missing.
We live in a very consumer driven society and even the poor among us have access to many of the luxuries of modern life.
We also live in a very individualistic society which means our personal pursuits are not often interrupted by the necessity to help others
Finally, we live in a very busy society which means we don’t often take time contemplate the true state of our souls and the actual direction of our lives on a deep level. It is very easy to forget that life doesn’t consist of possessions, experiences and fulfilling our own goals.
Lent is a little bit like New Year’s, when many people make resolutions. It is an annual opportunity to take stock of your spiritual life – to pray, to examine yourself, to remember that you are only dust, yet God has chosen to dwell within you and live through you. It’s a chance to remember what He has already done, consider the ways in which He still needs to work in you and demonstrate by fasting and/or service that you are not only willing but asking to go to the cross with Him. It’s a reminder that you, too, may be resurrected in newness of life.
So, this year, I am setting out again on a Lenten Journey. I will take this special time to repent – not necessarily of anything in particular. But I know I have sins that must exist because I have not yet been made perfect. I will examine my heart. Wherever I find that it is even slightly off-center, I will ask God to re-orient it. That is what repentance means, after all – turning and re-orienting oneself to God. This year, I will not deny myself a type of food or access to the internet, things I’ve done in the past. It’s been a physically difficult year for me so instead, I have determined to do something in the way of service on a regular basis – something that I believe God has spoken and is something I can do, but which requires that I be intentional and depend upon God’s grace. Although I feared failure in past years, I actually never have failed. But if I do, I will pick myself back up, repent or reorient, and go on, expecting that God will work in me through this now yearly pilgrimage to the cross and on to the resurrection.
Lent is always quite the adventure. In fact, it is an annual reminder of what our Christian life or adventure consists of – that just as He died, we die to self and just as God raised Him from the dead, so God gives us new life. Continually.
That’s the Christian life and the Christian adventure encapsulated- letting go and taking hold; planting a seed in the darkness and seeing it spring to life in the light, the experience of decreasing in order to increase, of dying in order to truly live.