It’s Ash Wednesday! Lent is here! Lent is here!
I love Lent. I love what it means… I love why we do it… I love what we’re preparing for. In my experience, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In conversing with Catholics (and traditional, liturgical Protestants, for that matter) the overwhelming attitude towards Lent is that it is one of their favorite liturgical seasons of the year, if not their favorite.
A season of fasting, penitence, and sacrifice… favorite.
Why do you suppose that is? Here’s my theory:
Lent is a time of renewal. Renewal of our relationship with God most importantly, and our attitudes and relationships towards what is around us… whether you are working on patience with your family or your attitude towards a particular vice you’re trying to kick.
During Lent, we re-prioritize. We give up something we love, not because we’re masochists, but because self-sacrifice is good for us. In our time and age, that’s going against the grain in a major way. We live in an age of unprecedented convenience and luxury: I want a hot meal in the next five minutes but I don’t want to cook- so I’ll go through a drive-thru. I want a new book but I don’t want to leave my couch- I’ll buy it online and download it onto my e-reader. Point being, picking something you love and choosing to go without it chips away at your “old man”, your flesh that indulges you with what you want instead of seeking God’s best for you.
Lent is also an opportunity for healing. This year, I’m giving up smoking. Yes, yes, a terrible, nasty habit that will kill me if I don’t stop. I don’t mention it for pats on the back or to point to my piousness. I mention it because it’s a habit that I picked up in a time in my life when I was so far away from God, and so far away from faith. It’s the last vestige of a life I don’t live anymore, of a person I am not anymore. It’s time to let go of what kills us. Maybe your thing isn’t as literal as my thing, but if we miss this opportunity to get real with ourselves and with God, if we look at Lent as a test where we see if we can give up marshmallows for 40 days and that’s all, then we miss an opportunity for grace.
Last year I didn’t give up smoking for Lent, though I knew that I should. I was too afraid. We humans are foolish, not stupid. We know what is killing us, and it is often one of our favorite things. Nobody likes to suffer, but as St. Paul tells us:
Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
When you go to get your ashes today, when you hear the words “Remember, o man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”…. log it away. As the shiny newness of Lent wears off and the struggling comes and you hate it because it’s suffering, remember that it’s good to feel dusty sometimes. We are dust that God still chose to redeem.
Remember, too, that giving something up is half the battle. We must replace it with something else. Namely, prayer. My old pastor used to say, “Fasting without prayer is just dieting.”
Have a blessed Lent, as we prepare our hearts for Christ and renew our relationship with God!