If you celebrate the season of Lent, you well know that you have a little more than two weeks left to do without whatever you are giving up for Lent.
Yes, I know. Lent is more than a diet. It’s more than giving up my favorite food or television program. Strangely, for those of us who don’t observe Lent, that’s the message we get. When others ask us, “So what are you giving up for Lent?” we shuffle our feet and hang our heads. Either that, or we defiantly lift our chins and say, “Nothin’. I don’t believe in Lent,” thus offending those who do practice this sacred season.
Since I don’t observe Lent, I decided to educate myself.
I learned that the motivation beyond the celebration of Lent is far deeper and more devotional than a mere restraint from something we enjoy. Here’s some facts I learned:
- The period of Lent is a season of forty days right before Easter, skipping Sundays that are reserved as “mini-Easters.”
- It is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter.
- The word Lent is an abbreviated word for the word, “Lenten.” It comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, lencton, which means Spring.
- The forty days replicate Jesus’ time spent in the wilderness when he fasted and prayed.
- In the early church, Lent was a time for new converts to fast and pray before they were baptized.
When asked why I don’t celebrate Lent, I’ve given a glib answer of, “It’s not mentioned in the Bible.” To be fair, Christians throughout the centuries have used ceremonies and traditions to act as links or memory prompts for the understanding and application of deeper spiritual truths. In the days when the Bible was not readily available to everyone, the Church often used visual images and celebrations as aids in teaching the doctrines of the church.
While it is true that we should reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection on a daily basis, I appreciate my more liturgical brothers and sisters’ dedication to commemorating and celebrating this special time of year that points us to the most important day in world history—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It makes a lot more sense than celebrating Easter with bunnies and jelly beans! It’s an effort to return us to the real reason for celebration this time of year.
Like with any tradition, it’s easy to lose track of the original meaning.
Like anything we do for God, Lent is not about an outward action. Giving up Doritos or chocolate does not make us more spiritual. Yet I can’t judge someone who does give up a food item for Lent. The reasons and motivations for doing so are as varied as what people can give up.
They might be doing it because
- All their friends at school are observing Lent.
- They needed to cut out that bad food anyway.
- Lent is a good time to learn a little bit of self-control.
- Doing something different is a mind prompt to think and pray. They’ve made the commitment that every time they reach for a Diet Coke or chocolate bar, they’ll stop and think about Jesus, thanking Him for His sacrifice.
Only God knows the heart.
As with any religious practice, it’s good to challenge ourselves to go to the next level. Friends on Facebook discussed that a deeper way to celebrate Lent might be to make the forty days a time of service, a time to reflect on Christ’s sacrificial life and death by sacrificing our time, energy and resources for others. I like this idea because it fits so well with that wonderful passage from Philippians 2 where Paul calls us to be like Jesus who emptied Himself for our sake.
You have two weeks of Lent left. Here’s some “like-minded” ideas:
- Take a bag of groceries to a hungry family.
- Write a letter of encouragement to someone in prison.
- Buy a teddy bear for a child in the hospital.
- Babysit the children of a neighbor or church member so the parents can enjoy a night out.
- Put together an Easter basket for a shut-in. Include home-dyed Easter eggs instead of candy if the person is on a restricted diet.
- Gather a group to sing favorite Easter hymns at a nursing home.
- Send the money you save from giving up Starbucks lattes’ to your favorite mission group.
Keep in mind, always keep in mind, the outward act does not make you more spiritual. Like the initial rational for fasting, any of these activities are to remind us of Jesus’ great sacrifice for us. We do these good deeds in His name, paying His grace forward, loving because He first loved us.
Yes, we should be doing these things all the time. But you have to start somewhere and for some crazy reason, we’re better motivated to embrace change when we have a tangible goal or purpose in mind. Now is a good time to get into some good habits.
The main point is this:
if you sacrifice or use self-restraint as a part of the Lenten preparation, make sure you connect the deed with the attitude of giving sacrificially in Jesus’ name. Intentionally make it a part of your devotional preparation for Easter.
Whether or not you officially celebrate Lent, preparation for the Easter Season is still a great idea. Customize your preparation to fit you. Don’t feel pressured by others to participate in a certain way. If you do, you are seeking to please others, not God. Instead, the right thing is to do whatever best prepares your heart to commemorate what Jesus did for you and to encourage others to embrace God’s lavish love.
Make your preparation for Easter