I’ll be honest. I didn’t know what Lent was until Ash Wednesday last week. It was actually embarrassing when fellow students on campus would ask me what I was giving up for Lent. I asked “what is Lent?” and though nobody was condescending, there was the initial pause before answering, especially those who knew me well enough to know that I had grown up in the church.
I should know what Lent is and I should recognize it yearly. I asked myself, “Literally every other Christian does it, why don’t I?” I asked my mom why our old church didn’t celebrate Lent and she said she didn’t know, just that they didn’t. She speculated that our old church didn’t like tradition because it sometimes hindered personal relationships with God, but as I learned more about Lent, I realized that this season does not hinder our relationship. It edifies it.
For those of you who are in the dark like I was, Lent is a period of time before Resurrection Sunday (lasting about 40 days, not including Sundays) dedicated to remembering our brokenness. It begins on Ash Wednesday, and most of those participating will give up a luxury (like sugar, television, social media) and fill that gap with a spiritual discipline (like journaling, prayer, Bible study). I went to my first Ash Wednesday service this year and made the decision to give up Netflix and secular music (basically anything that doesn’t glorify God) in favor of more reading, studying, and writing about the Bible.
The first day, not surprisingly, was incredibly difficult. I realized that I spend about 50% of my time on Netflix and when I’m not on Netflix, I’m listening to soundtracks from my favorite shows and movies throughout the day. I hadn’t realized how much of my attention and time went into something that definitely didn’t edify my soul. Not to say that it necessarily hurt my walk with God, but it wasn’t exactly challenging me spiritually. I am not just emptying myself of that which hinders spiritual growth, but I am also filling myself with that which helps it in this season.
Though Lent probably shouldn’t be the only time a year we as Christians fast from something mundane for something spiritually edifying, it is a time in which a body of Christ can fast together and remember their brokenness as a community. This is probably the aspect of Lent that appeals to me the most, the fact that we can all come together and work on our sins as a body of Christ, encouraging one another. We can fast individually any other day of the year, but this season is a time of broken togetherness as we come before our God and humbly ask him for mercy for our sins. Isn’t it so wonderful that our God loves us individually and communally?
In light of all this, I have decided that I would like to recognize Lent every year. No, it does not determine my salvation, but when we recognize our damaged selves and God’s great grace and love for us, we cannot remain stagnant in our spiritual walk. I see it as an incredible growing experience and I’ve already felt healing in small aspects of my life during this past week of Lent. I am learning to be authentic with my brothers and sisters in Christ and to use my time wisely as I grow spiritually. It’s a very humbling experience, this season, and I am sure that this solemn journey will make the joy we feel as God’s children and lovers on Resurrection Sunday that much more ecstatic and awe-inspiring. If God can come down to our broken and fallen world and pay the awful price for our sins so that we can come to him freely, why can’t we open ourselves up to him and allow him to take from us that which is harmful?
In chapel today, the speaker read portions of the book of Hosea, explaining that the message of this book is not only God’s fierce love and justice, but also the fact that Israel has rejected her God. That she has turned to other lovers and in that fall, she has made herself sick. Only through God’s holy judgment and Israel’s repentance can she be healed. And healing is not instantaneous, it takes time. Israel had to go through a deep cleansing, a process of returning to her first love.
In the same way, we return to God during this time. The speaker said, “Don’t simply keep sin at bay during this season, but change your heart so that you no longer desire sin.” We have to train our appetites to crave God, not the things of this world. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). When we purge our minds of the unholy and fill it with the holy, God shows up. He wants us to crave him because he craves us!
I hope that whoever else is recognizing this Lenten season will continue with the hope of God’s grace as we ask for forgiveness and strengthen our faith in Him.
“So you, by the help of your God, return; Observe mercy and justice. And wait on your God continually.”
[Photo by: Hannah Nicole Martin]