When I was in college, my classmates and I joked about giving up homework for Lent. I know God was impressed with our sacrifice. This year, I’ve decided that my dirty dishes and cluttered table are causing me to stumble, so it would be best for all involved if I just gave up housework for Lent. I am so holy like that.
For real though, did you grow up observing Lent? I didn’t, but I’ve learned a little more about it over the last few years. I think it’s good to be more intentional than usual in the weeks leading up to Easter. It’s so easy, even among the Reformed crowd, to toss the word “gospel” and “cross” and “Christ” and “sacrifice” around like buzz words. Even when we’re speaking truth to each other, we’ve said it so many times that apart from the grace of God, it’s easy for the words to lose their meaning. With that in mind, I’m thankful for a Lenten season that reminds me to be more intentional about reflecting on my sin, Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and His triumphal resurrection and second coming. While we should be more purposeful about pondering these things all of the time, the sad truth is that we aren’t. Having a defined space to do that feels like a reset button, a time to reorient myself and get my bearings back. To me, Lent is to the year what Sunday is to the week.
Also, there is something beautiful about knowing that fellow believers all over creation are in the same kind of season. It’s not difficult to let petty theological and denominational differences divide us, but knowing that brothers and sisters around the world have a similar focus during the Lenten season is cause for celebration because it honors the Lord. To be united in mind, heart and prayer must be a taste of what eternity will be like, a multitude praising Christ as one.
Lent is not as ingrained in our current culture as Easter and Christmas are. While some things, like Ash Wednesday services and fasting, are typical of the season, not everyone who observes Lent will take part in them. Lent is unique in its introspective nature, and so are the ways we observe it. Noel Piper is tweeting a series of Lenten traditions, submitted by her Twitter followers and blog readers. I’m looking forward to learning how other people prepare for this season and maybe adopting my own traditions.
However, I feel the need to be on guard against participating in Lent just for the sake of participating in Lent. I went to an Ash Wednesday service, like I have for the last two years. This time, though, felt different. I think Ash Wednesday services are wonderful and helpful in initiating the Lenten season, but as the evening wore on, I grew more and more aware that I was just there for appearances. I wanted people to think I was holy, basically. A better way for me to usher in the Lenten season this year would have been to stay home, spend some time in the Word and examine my heart instead of putting on a show. Will it be like this every year? I don’t know. Maybe some years, the Lord will use an Ash Wednesday service to touch my heart and being with other believers and receiving the ashes will be just what I need to prepare for Easter. Maybe other years will be better spent preparing in a different way.
Fasting has felt “off” this year, too. I’ve felt compelled to give things up in the past. A couple of years ago, it was Facebook. I don’t remember what I did last year… I probably pretended I was giving up Cherry Coke for Lent, but really, I was just weaning myself off of a caffeine addiction anyway. But I think if I were to give something up this time, I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons again – for show, not for discipline. (Hm, I’m beginning to sense a theme here… I am constantly surprised at the depth of my people-pleasing sin!)
On the other hand, as I evaluate some of my sins and more subtle idols, I do see, as I mentioned in my last post, a tendency towards comparing myself to others and a desire to be liked, both of which rob me of my joy in Christ. For those reasons, I can see myself being more careful about how I spend my time online. I don’t feel burdened to completely give up Facebook, Twitter and blogging, but they can be breeding grounds for discontent when I’m constantly comparing my life to a steady stream of status updates. I am not sure what it will look like to manage my online time during this season, but I am excited for what the next 40ish days hold.
One of the things I am thankful I heard at the Ash Wednesday service was our pastor reading Romans 14:5-12:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Our pastor encouraged us to do as we felt led, that whether we observe Lent traditionally or not at all, whether we received the imposition of the ashes or not, or fasted or not, to do it all as unto the Lord. He reminded us that there’s no passage in Scripture that says, “Thou shalt observe Lent.” It’s not a mandate or requirement. So with that freedom in mind, I’m eager for whatever the Lord will show me during this season of reflection.
How do you observe Lent, if at all?