By Kelly Wright
Are you someone who practices Lent? Maybe you grew up in a tradition where every year you were encouraged to give up something in preparation for Easter. Or are you someone who is curious what Lent is all about – wondering why people fast for six weeks?
Up until a few years ago, Lent was a mystery to me and honestly even a bit uninviting. You see, my faith tradition celebrated sacred days like Easter and Christmas, but not sacred seasons, like Lent and Advent.
But what I’ve discovered these last few years as I’ve learned more and practice Lent, intentionally making space for and practicing the sacred season of Lent adds a meaningful experience to Easter.
You see, by only celebrating a sacred day instead of the season, it’s like celebrating the 4th of July but not experiencing summer or having a wedding without an engagement.
Instead of celebrating Easter on just one day, Lent gives six weeks of preparation, intentionality, and a deepening of the Easter season. Practicing the 40 days of Lent is an invitation for a deeper experience of trusting and training.
Why forty? Forty is a number we see throughout the Bible. Significant biblical narratives contained 40. For instance, the flood lasted 40 days and nights, Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and the children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.
Thinking back for a moment to the Israelites and the 40 years of wandering in the desert is a place that we can begin to think about Lent. The Israelites had been freed from Egyptian slavery, years of bondage and suffering. But God was faithful to free them at just the right time. As God led them away from Pharaoh’s army, He opened the Red Sea and safely saw them through to the other side. But the adventure didn’t stop there. They spent many years on their way to the Promised Land God had for them. It was during that time of wandering that they experienced an extended season of fully depending on God. God provided for their every need: providing daily bread, providing His presence as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. This time wasn’t easy, but it was a time of deepening trust in God.
Have you heard, “You never know God is all you need until God is all you have?”
My son had a blood disorder when he was 18 months. For most kids they need one or two treatments and the blood disorder resolves. For Micah, he needed 18 treatments over 2.5 years. It was a time of trial for sure, but was also a time we saw first hand the faithfulness of God. It became a place of deepening trust and also a training ground for the inner battle of fear, frustration, and surrender. I wanted that experience to be a day, but it was a season. And with God’s help, it was a season where we experienced God like never before.
Lent gives us an opportunity to experience 40 days of separating from the normalcy of daily life and 40 days of creating space to trust God. Does 40 days of experiencing something deeper, different than any other 40 days, sounds appealing to you?
As we prepare our hearts for Lent, we reflect on Jesus’s forty days in the desert. In Matthew 4, we see that after Jesus was baptized He was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:2 says, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Forty days of Lent were set aside in the remembrance of the forty days Jesus spent alone in the desert. Symbolically, we are invited to join with Jesus in a place of solitude and fasting from something. During our days of fasting, we make space for practices that open us to God.
As you consider what to fast from or give up, think about what you have a hard time saying no to. What has an unhealthy hold on your life? This sacred season allows us to make space, to see where we are getting hung up.
Now it is important to note: We don’t want Lent to be a place of extremes – not too lenient but also not too strict. What is necessary, not arbitrary?
For me, in the past I’ve given up social media, Diet Coke, and this year I’ll be giving up eating past 7 pm. I can eat healthy throughout the day, but all bets are off after 7 pm. It’s a place of trust and training.
Ash Wednesday is March 2nd, it is the day we begin Lent. Be considering what God is inviting you to abstain from during this season of Lent. Fasting can be giving up certain foods, as well as activities and substances. Marjorie Holmes writes, “In a more tangible, visceral way than any other spiritual discipline, fasting reveals our excessive attachments and the assumptions that lie behind them. Fasting brings us face-to-face with how we put the material world ahead of its spiritual Source.”
I’ve heard it said, “Let us approach Lent as an opportunity not a requirement. Let’s approach it as a joyful season. After all it is meant to lead us into the church’s spiritual springtime, a time when out of the darkness of sin’s winter a repentant empowered people emerge.”
So, for you – maybe you’ve participated in the sacred season of Lent before and are looking for a fresh way to engage or maybe you have heard about Lent, but haven’t been sure what it is or what to do with it. Please consider joining us these next six weeks for “The Way of Lent.”
Join us each week here on vufaith.com for more weekly reflections on Lent as we move towards Easter. May God lead you as you discern His invitation to draw more deeply towards Him. May He reveal what specific thing He is inviting you to fast from, and may we join in the prayer of Henri Nouwen, “O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”