The first time I participated in Lent was about 8 years ago when our oldest son, about 13 years old at the time, explained that he wanted to fast from sugary drinks and drink only water for the 40 days leading up to Easter. He had gotten a Facebook message that invited him to join others in doing this. When the 40 days was over, we would then take the money that would have gone to buy soda, coffee, juice, etc. and donate it to a clean water project somewhere in the world. The idea intrigued him. And so, he announced to me that he was going to take this challenge. Before long, our whole family had jumped on board, and thus, we began our first real encounter with Lent.
As far as first encounters go, I suppose it was successful. Apart from some major caffeine withdrawal headaches for me the first few days, we seemingly cruised through our 40 day fast, donated money to a needy area so that they could have fresh water, and we did it as a family. All good, right? But looking back, I realize that I didn’t really know anything about the purpose of Lent.
I never really thought much about Lent growing up. I celebrated Easter with my family, and I knew that we were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. . .but Lent was something other people, namely, my Catholic friends did. I supposed it was a way to demonstrate their faith; perhaps a way to prove to God how much they loved him and how devoted they were to him. Even when I began to take my relationship with God seriously when I was in college, I didn’t really think about Lent. After all, wasn’t the essential message of the gospel one of grace? I mistakenly thought that Lent somehow lessened the significance of that grace.
Over these past few years, I’ve delved a little deeper into Lent and its practice. Thanks to the input of godly friends, and other teachers in the Body of Christ, I’m growing in my understanding of and desire to participate in Lent. While I can still tend to think of Lent as a work to please God, I’m beginning to understand that the question I need to be asking is not “What am I giving up for Lent (for God)?” but perhaps “How can the discipline of fasting help me return God and love Him with all of my heart?” (I think I read that in an article somewhere, but can’t quite remember where right now.) The sacrifice is not so much a focus on an outward act as it is about desire for inward transformation.
This article on Ash Wednesday and Lent by Ruth Haley Barton has been really helpful for me as I ponder this upcoming season in the church and it can explain the practice of Lent far better than I ever could. https://www.transformingcenter.org/2017/02/ash-wednesday-invitation-to-a-holy-lent/. I still haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to practice or observe Lent this year. But when I decide, it won’t be to prove my devotion, or to demonstrate that I have the will power it takes to do it. It will be because I’m humbly asking God to use the discipline of fasting to do a supernatural work in me, through the power of His Spirit, to conform me to the image of Christ.