According to my counting we're 11 days into Lent. In the different churches I grew up in, Lent was always part of our tradition. In fact, until recently I assumed every churchgoer understood and embraced this season. Turns out I was wrong.
A while back a friend told me her church doesn't "do" seasons like Lent or Advent. Huh? Isn't it a given? I asked her why and she explained they see these seasons as traditional, not biblical. Fair enough, but I wondered how they prepared for the miracle of Jesus' birth or the suffering of Holy Week, culminating in the glory of Easter.
At my own church, even though we mark the season of Lent, I recently overheard some friends saying they really don't know what Lent is all about. On the flip side, I've seen other churches make this an extra special time using Lenten-specific worship, studies or prayer.
With all of the church to church discrepancy, I've been pondering Lent (it doesn't take much for me to ponder). I want to know your thoughts on the matter:
Why do most churches celebrate Lent, but some don't? What does Lent mean? What are we supposed to do during the 40 days leading up to Easter? Is Lent strictly traditional or is it rooted biblically?
To give up or not to give up? That is the question.
Do you give something up for Lent? Why? If you don't, why not?
In my church we're not specifically encouraged to give anything up, in fact we're encouraged to take ON something that deepens our relationship with God, like extra time in devotions, Bible reading or prayer.
That said, for the past few years I've given up all forms of dessert for Lent. Not because I have to, but because I want to—and because I didn't think I could. See, I have no self-control when it comes to sweets. The first year I gave up desserts I was astounded to find that my taste for sweets disappeared immediately. I knew only God's power could effect such a change because I have NEVER been able to exercise such self-control on my own. Each Lent I've experienced the same ability to "just say no" that's way stronger than my own weak willpower!
But I wonder if this really is a good thing to do for Lent.
Everyday or extra-special?
Does your church or do you do anything extra special during Lent? Do you fast? Do a Lenten study or devotional? Or is your spiritual life business as usual?
Tell me your thoughts. I think we'd all like to know what's going on in different churches and traditions. What is does the season of Lent mean to you?
For more of thoughts on the topic, here's an article I put together for our church newsletter:
What Exactly is Lent?
If you’re like many at Woodside, you know we’re in the season of Lent, but you’re not quite sure that means. Here’s a look at Lent.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. It falls 40 weekdays before Easter (Sundays aren’t counted in the 40 days of Lent). Ash Wednesday takes its name from ashes, a traditional Jewish sign of penitence. In some liturgical traditions, palm fronds or palm crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned, and then the ashes are applied to the worshiper’s forehead on Ash Wednesday as a token of their commitment to observe a “holy Lent.”
Ancient Christian tradition was to observe Lent with fasting (a discipline of going without food at certain times), study, self-examination, confession and prayer. Many churches continue those traditions.1
Commonly, Lent is seen as a time of being “extra good” so that when Easter rolls around we feel more deserving to receive the incredible gift of Jesus’ resurrection. Often we give up something in an effort to “shape up” up our souls. By doing so, we hope that by denying ourselves and exercising willpower over our earthly, carnal appetites we’ll become more spiritual—and we’ll earn favor in God’s eyes.
But, this way of thinking does nothing to improve our relationship with God and is based on the assumption that we can overcome sin and failure by trying harder. Contrary to popular wisdom, “doing right” is not the opposite of “sin.”
Sin is distance or separation from God. It’s a condition of the heart or an expression of that condition where we are estranged from God and fail to trust Him.
There’s only one “cure” for our sinful nature—and it’s not being “good.” The cure is receiving the reconciliation that only Jesus Christ can give to us as a free gift of grace. But you need to acknowledge and accept it.
The point is this: Every single one of us is always and already loved absolutely, profoundly, and unconditionally by the God who created us and who knows us better than we know ourselves.2
Lent is a time to prepare our hearts for Easter. It’s a time to renew our commitment to Jesus, to explore anew our relationship with the Almighty, and to reflect deliberately on His great Truth. Instead of giving up something for Lent, add something like extra Bible reading, prayer or quiet time with God; fully engage in the current sermon series, The Way I Was Made; and set aside time for just you and God.
Use Lent as an opportunity to transform your faith. To open your heart, mind and soul to Jesus. And to prepare to receive the utterly incredible gift of Easter.
2 www.explorefaith.org, What is Lent All About? by The Rev. Dr. Robert Hansel