“What are you giving up for Lent this year?” It’s become a common phrase in our society, even among those who do not regularly attend a worship service of any kind. Lent has embedded itself in our collective conscience as a season of solemn sobriety, of restraint, of self-denial. People treat it almost like a workout regimen, or a life style challenge – 40 Days to a Newer and Better You! People give up chocolate, or Facebook, or soda. All good life choices, but are they really getting at the heart of the season? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making these kinds of improvements in your life, and if it’s Lent that motivates you to do so, more power to you! But what happens when those 40 days are done? Ideally the practices that we engage in will result in a change that is more permanent, but that is not always what ends up happening.
Historically, Lent is the season of catechumenate, a time for newcomers to Christianity to spend learning and growing in their faith that would culminate in being baptized during the Easter Vigil. The result was that the whole 40 days of Lent became seen as a time to spend getting closer to God, to growing deeper in relationship with the divine, and a part of that involves clearing out aspects of our lives that separate us from God. Now I don’t want to imply that giving up chocolate won’t help you get closer to God. You might very well create some new psalms of lament during the process. But I would encourage you to spend a little bit of time thinking about what it is that separates you from God. What is it that keeps you from placing your trust fully in Christ? What tendencies or habits do you engage in that leave no room for the Holy Spirit to blow freely through your life? It might even involve taking on a spiritual practice, as opposed to giving something up. Beginning to do something that you wish you did more often or want to be better at: daily meditation, prayer, studying scripture every day, seeking out one person to do a random act of kindness for.
The point of Lent is not to see how strong our wills are, how determined we can be to deny ourselves something we love for 40 days, and then to simply go back to normal life come Easter. The point is to engage in true self-improvement, a spring cleaning of the soul if you will. To find ways that we might be transformed on this pilgrimage to Jerusalem. So, I will ask you a different question: “How will you be changed by Lent this year?”