I've read several other blog posts recently about Lent, and I've read countless Facebook statuses listing off the intended sacrifices so many of my friends are planning to make during this season. Everything from chocolate to fats to carbs to alcohol to Facebook (I truly don't get why God would desire for us to give up a connection with people, but I'm not big into the FB distractors like games and whatnot, so, maybe this is what some people need). People are all about giving something up, but is "giving something up" really what it means to fast? Is not spending time on social media what God is looking for us to do during lent?
Do you participate? I'm going to put this out there at the beginning of this post. Please, tell me in the comments of this post if you participate in lent, but include more than that for me. You see, what I'm trying to get a grasp on is this: "Do all these people really understand the purpose behind lent? Are they drawing closer to Jesus because of their sacrifice?" Or, "Are they participating out of obligation or because everyone else is doing it or because their church traditionally participates?" So, please tell me why you choose to give something up and how it has impacted your faith in the past, and do you consider this to be fasting? If you're comfortable, I'd love to hear which past lenton sacrifices have been the most challenging for you and how those seasons of going without changed you. Or did it not? Either way, I want to know! It's a personal research project. Indulge me.
Now that I have that out of the way...
I did not grow up in a church tradition that made a big deal of lent. In fact, I left for college having zero understanding of what lent was. It was the season when the satin fabrics adorning my church's sanctuary were purple. My favorite!
Halfway through my freshmen year of college, I transferred to a Christian university. It was the conservative university founded by the Wesleyan denomination, which is the tradition in which I grew up, but there were students of many different faith backgrounds there, and our Christian ministries professors made sure all the future pastors knew and understood this season of lent.
I remember the first time I saw people walking across campus with ashes on their forehead. I admit to you, I was confused. I thought they must have fallen off the Wesleyan wagon. For. Sure. I was not foreward enough in those days to ask just anyone, but I had this one friend, Paul. I asked. I am sure it was one of the most profoundly spoken conversations of my life and made me look super smart and probably went something like this,
(whispering so no one around us would find out how ridiculously uninformed I was), "Paul, what's on your forehead? Why? What's that all about?"
He humored me that day by giving me a brief explanation, and so began my own journey into trying to understand lent. Paul's explanation was rather short and mysterious, and I wanted to really, really get it. The next year, I decided I should sacrifice something. That must be the best way to understand this season, or so I thought. I actually forgot about it partway through and indulged, felt guilty, recommitted and did better.
At the end of that 40 days, I didn't feel changed. I didn't feel like my big sacrifice (trust me, it was so not big) had served any purpose other than proving to myself that I could do it. Whatever. That's kind of how I felt. My mind didn't understand, and my heart didn't engage. Neither an epiphany nor a sanctifying process took place in my life.
Over the years I have made attempts to better understand this season. Lent is not merely about sacrifice. It's about wanting more of Jesus. It's about learning to please Him and hearing His heartbeat. Is it vital to our salvation? No. Is sacrifice and fasting important to our faith journey? Indeed it is. The Bible doesn't suggest that we fast, it actually assumes that we will. Whether or not you fast during the season of lent, fasting is a discipline which needs to be a part of the life of all believers throughout every season of the year.
Fasting from the heart opens a door that we might otherwise miss. I don't want to miss it. I want to be keenly aware of the open door to Jesus and for Him to see that the door to my heart is gaping wide open for Him. That's a reason to participate, isn't it?
Whether or not you choose to participate, I pray that you choose to incorporate these spiritual disciplines in your life, your whole life, the whole year through. Pray, read your Bible, worship, meditate, fast. I want more of these things all year long, more of Jesus, more of learning to please Him, and more of hearing His heartbeat. Use lent as your springboard to a life with an open door to Jesus!