Lent– Grow, Share, Connect
If you grew up in a more traditional Christian denomination, there’s a chance you were taught the ins and outs of Lent and observed it with your family. If you were like me and grew up in a non-denominational church or perhaps didn’t grow up in church at all, you may have grown up thinking people were just referring to their laundry when mentioning the Lent season.
It must have been my high school junior Bible teacher whointroduced me to Lent (he is an Episcopalian) because it was that year I decided to give Lent a whirl…because that’s apparently how you approach a sacred act of fasting…you just wing it. I am sure he gave us an overview of the history of Lent and how people typically observed it by fasting from meat, fish, and dairy, and only eating one full meal per day. The entire point of Lent and fasting was not to diet or feel good/bad about ourselves, but to bring us closer to God by turning our focus to Him instead of our own selfishness and the luxuries we desire through repentance. He encouraged us to think of something we could give up for that season that would help us focus on God and bring us closer to Him. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is 46 days before Easter Sunday. Sundays were considered “feast days”, so you were only fasting for 40 days.
Are you ready for the unwrapping of my high school junior mind? I put my mind to such great use, I astound myself just thinking about it. Prom was shortly after Easter Sunday. I needed a reason to eat really well leading up to prom so I would look and feel my best. I could use Lent to give up all the foods I liked that were bad for me, and maybe I would magically grow closer to God in the process as a big, fat bonus (because that’s what I was OBVIOUSLY concerned about.) The only problem was that spring break fell right in the middle of Lent, and how could I not have free reign over what I ate during the course of that week of freedom? I had the answer—I would start Lent a week early and then just take spring break off—because I’m sure that’s how the early church apostles did things, too. Oh my gosh. I can’t believe that was only ten years ago. I hope I have grown…..a lot.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college when I transferred to Hardin-Simmons. The church I was going to was composed of more than just college kids, but there were a lot of us and all from different backgrounds. You guys, Abilene Texas is not that large, and there are THREE private universities….a Methodist, Church of Christ, and a Baptist one. Throw in a seminary that makes you rethink everything you ever believed in, and you have quite the troop of folks. Big on discovering our own faith but also learning and carrying out practices from the early church, Lent was something we focused on together. I remember the first time I went to an Ash Wednesday service and actually had ashes smeared on my forehead. Later that night, I’m pretty sure the guy working at Blockbuster (RIP Blockbuster) thought I had just smeared a bunch of makeup on my forehead unbeknownst to myself. I enjoyed taking part in this practice, though. It made me feel connected both to God and to other people who followed Lent because I was sharing in this sacred experience with them, and after all, it is experience that unites people, yes?
Don’t let me fool you into thinking I had made leaps and bounds in my maturity since high school, though. There was still the time I gave up peanut butter for Lent because I had become addicted and was worrying about gaining the sophomore 20 from it. (I had to learn that girl cannot live off peanut butter alone. It was a hard lesson, Lent appropriate or not.) Or there was the time I gave up texting. This may seem like a really good one, and maybe it was. It forced me (and those I talked with) to put more effort into communication. However, I may have made this bold move with some manipulation. Blake and I had just started dating, and I wanted him to call me or seek me out in other, more pursuit-filled ways….so I just ended the texting crutch right then and there…at least for 40 days. (Blake is probably just finding out about this along with the rest of you. Sorry, love. I did what I had to do for our relationship. It’s about sacrifices.)
College can be such a crucial season in a person’s life. I think it’s when I started learning to be open—to people and ideas. To connect with others and connect with ourselves, we have to be able to share our story and listen to the stories of others with an open mind, or we simply cannot connect. If we don’t connect, we don’t grow—we simply stay where we are, and then what is the point? I think the Holy Spirit used this time when people I felt close to were being introduced to Lent to teach me how to connect with others. He showed me what it looks like to fast from certain things in a way that pulls me away from selfish habits and points me instead to Jesus. And if you initiate a conversation with someone about what they’re choosing to fast from, it’s usually a wide open door into part of their story, (unless they’re selfishly using it to prepare for prom. If that’s the case, pray for them daily and make new friends.)
We should be doing two things with our lives—growing closer to Jesus and building relationships with people so we can be Jesus to them. If you grew up practicing Lent and know the history like the back of your hand, you may think I’m totally missing the point, but I very much think Lent helps accomplish our life’s mission. In a very basic way of explanation, Ash Wednesday is about the repenting of our sins, and Lent is about fasting and awaiting the glorious day when Jesus rises from the dead to be in heaven with God while sending the Holy Spirit to be with us until we, too join Him in our eternal home.
I was taught that not only is taking away (fasting) appropriate for Lent, but adding something that brings you closer to God is appropriate. One year, I wrote in my journal every day. In a way, I guess it was fasting because I was journaling instead of doing something else (like watching Gilmore Girls). Two years ago, I wore this rainbow bracelet on my hand every day, and every time I complained, I switched the bracelet to the other hand. That may seem silly, but it really was a great way to keep me accountable and realize the words that came out of my mouth. That season helped me voice gratitude. Last year for Lent, I told Blake that every day, I was going to get one day closer to having our baby (my motivation was lacking). This year, I am hoping to carve out time to read every day. There are so many books I want to read, you guys. My entire Amazon wish list is books. As an aspiring writer, I need to read. But as a person who lives for the written word, reading feels essential for my soul. So often though, I choose to do other things instead of read when I have the time. And yes, I should probably choose to make dinner for my family instead of read. But there are other times when I choose to fill my time with things that may seem urgent, but to choose to sit and read instead is far more important. I’m also choosing this because so often, I judge my day by how productive it is and how many things I crossed off my list. Reading is never on my list. It’s a luxury in my mind. To read instead of washing the towels doesn’t make my “good wife, good mom, good person” list. But it’s important. It grows me, and it brings me closer to God, and it makes me a better person. I’m really excited what reading every day for 40 days (46, really) will do for my heart. Lent is such a unique way to recognize ways we desire and need to grow while seeing the grace we are given to do so.
If you plan to observe Lent this year, I would love to hear what you’re fasting from or adding to your life. It can be a great way to open up a conversation or story.
Ash Wednesday is next Wednesday, February 18th.
If you’re interested in learning about Lent who is slightly more qualified (or A LOT more qualified), check out these links: