Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent--the forty days before Easter, a time of preparation and searching. Lent is like a Jesse tree or Advent calendar or the Lord's Supper--a tangible, consistent reminder that this earth is not all that there is and that life is not all about us. For me, observing Lent makes Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday more real, as the focus for the forty days before Easter is on his life, death, and sacrifice and what it means for us.
My first Lent experience was in high school when I gave up watching Gilmore Girls from 5-6pm on weeknights and instead spent that time in my room studying my Bible and praying. That hour was a rich time of study for me as sunset light streamed through my bedroom windows and I curled up in my Papasan chair.
Some say that giving up something for Lent represents Jesus when he fasts in the wilderness for forty days (see Matthew 4). It's a practice of spiritual discipline, as Jesus uses those forty days as preparation for his ministry. It's a reminder that He gave up so we could gain.
When I observe Lent (and I don't every year) I usually give up something that I find comfort in or that has a strong hold on my life, not because it is inherently bad, but because it is such a part of my life and thoughts that giving it up will force me to direct my thoughts and prayers to God instead. It's about that key word: instead.
Lent is not about giving up something so I can benefit; it's not the time to kick a bad habit. In fact, usually I give up something that I plan to enjoy again on Easter Sunday. Lent is also not about what others will think or about proving my spirituality. It's about Him--about realigning my life and thoughts with His. It's about trying to pray and dwell on God more. I don't always give something up, but I am surprised by what I learn when I do.
In high school, when I gave up my favorite TV hour, I became much more sensitive to the role of television and commercials (pre-Netflix era) in my life. My first year of teaching, I gave up my second cup of coffee during Lent. It was a very real time of resting and depending for me. I couldn't work at the pace I had been working because I felt tired in the afternoons. But giving up taught me about the value I placed on success and reminded me that my strength and abilities come from God, not my coffee. I was forced to rethink how I worked (and my dependence on caffeine!).
Jesus sacrifices for us; he bears the curse for us. So he doesn't need me to do Lent. He doesn't love me more if I practice Lent. But when I give up something whose absence reminds me more and more of God's presence, I find new peace and satisfaction and dependence.
How fitting that Lent comes in the springtime as the deadness of winter falls away! Winter is brightened by Christmas and the season of Advent, but then there are the dark, cold days of January and February. As spring comes, we celebrate Lent, and in the midst of beauty and light and joy we remember Christ's sacrifice. We prepare our hearts and remember him, praying that the deadness that may have crept up into our own hearts will fall away and that we will find hope and healing and rest.