Are You Running Late for Lent?
I wonder if I am the only one? The only one who is getting a late start on the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday was two days ago. Being that I live in suburban Houston, on that day like millions of other people in Texas, I was riding out some of the lowest temperatures in decades huddled in blankets, trying to stay warm (and sane) without power in my home. To be honest, thoughts of observing Lent were not foremost in my mind.
When electricity returned the next day, I noticed a thought, some questions, perhaps a temptation... since I didn’t begin observing Lent on Ash Wednesday, why bother this year? Why not just skip Lent? Why not skip fasting? Why not just wait and “do” Lent next year? Would Jesus really want me to fast for Lent during a pandemic? During an unprecedented winter freeze? Surely 2022 will be a better year for Lent than 2021!
My questions and musings were easily answered. Because for me, Lent isn’t something I have to do. It is not an obligation. Nor is it a commandment. It is an opportunity. It is a privilege. Lent isn’t restrictive, it is freeing.
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition that observed Lent. I heard about Lent, but all I knew of it was that people “gave up” things for Lent. I didn’t know why and I didn’t understand the point. But what I have found is that Lent is a rich tradition that brings me closer to Christ. When I engage in the Lenten season, I am more present to His life, His sacrifice, and His resurrection. Each time I observe Lent, God does a transforming work in me as He peels back deadness in my heart and resurrects anew His Spirit within.
That’s why, although I am running late, I am not skipping Lent this year.
Traditionally, Lent commemorates Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2ESV) When we observe Lent, we enter into a 40-day journey with Jesus. As believers observing Lent, we choose to fast from something we would normally enjoy. Many will also choose to take on something at the same time - serving others, Lenten devotionals, or daily self-examination. Ruth Haley Barton writes that Lent is a season of returning to God with all our hearts, “...a time when we are called to wake up to the darkness within and invite the light of God’s presence to shine there... Lent is a spiritual season for seeing, naming and confessing our own darkness until eventually it gives way to God’s marvelous light.”
Discovering the dark places in my heart that I have not seen before is the most challenging part of Lent for me. I think that’s why I was tempted to skip Lent this year. When I immerse myself into Lent with all sincerity, it is a hard journey. But there are treasures to be found along the path because opening the darkest places of my heart within the shelter and presence of Christ is where I find unexpected grace. His complete knowing and all-embracing acceptance draws me more deeply into a relationship of trust and intimacy with Him. And in His loving arms I am safe to confess, repent, and receive His grace… upon grace… upon grace.
My husband has often used an illustration for prayer that seems to fit my lateness to Lent. He will say, “When you miss a meal, do you stop eating altogether? Do you tell yourself that you just aren’t good at this eating thing and so why bother trying at all? Do you give up on eating? No, of course you do not! If you miss a meal, you eat more at the next meal to make up for it!”
Yes, I am running late for Lent. I missed beginning to observe Lent on Ash Wednesday, but I am entering into the Lenten season today and walking this path towards the cross of Christ.
Some of the spiritual disciplines for the Lenten season are fasting, confession, and self-examination. In the coming weeks, I will offer blogs on these topics and others along with resources for your Lenten journey. I realize that these are not popular topics – but I hope you’ll be able to hang in there with me! I’d love to hear about the unexpected grace you encounter along the way.
Knowing The Self That Is Known By God - I mentioned the spiritual practice of self-examination in the above post, also known as the Examen. The beauty of the Examen is in its simplicity. It is a practice that invites increasing awareness of God and growing awareness of self.