It’s easy for little kids to have the wrong impression of Lent. It can seem like it’s all about punishment and guilt. When I was a kid, teachers would tell us to give something up as penance for our sins. Since Jesus could resist temptation while fasting in the desert for forty days I can’t have chocolate. Imagine me as an eight-year-old bookworm who loves the epic tragedy of the story of Jesus, but still doesn’t see the point. I thought:
- If you don’t have to claim ownership of wrong-doing, why would you?
- If Jesus loves me he doesn’t want me to make myself sad over something trivial like chocolate. We pray “lead me not into temptation”, right?
- Authority figures placing seemingly meaningless limits on me offended my strong-will.
- People are boasting and competing. Which penance is most restrictive? Do you make it all the way through Lent?
Ugh. That’s why I’m not mentioning the self-deprivation aspect of Lent to my six-year-old daughter. Instead, she’s hearing the Easter story, feasting on cookies and turkey and getting an Easter basket. (If you’re curious about what’s in the basket check out my Easter gift guide.)
Kids like me, with confusing church experiences, box up their Catholic life as soon as they are able. Then, they stuff that box in the back of the closet. Maybe they never get around to sorting it out.
Friends, has that ever been you?
As a result, this is my first Lent as a member of a church since the nineties. Though I now see this season as the gift that it is, when I say the word Lent I still hear resentment in my voice. Probably, if it wasn’t for my husband, I’d let it pass this year just like all the others, but he’s becoming Catholic this Easter and he wants to give up snack food.
I’m surprised that he wants to do this before he’s even Catholic. A slideshow of a dozen junior high girls in headbands with starchy bangs flew by and I heard snarky voices chiming, “I’m giving up snack food for Lent, what are you giving up?” Taking it in, I swallow my negativity and tell him that I will support him. Twenty seconds later, as casually as one can spit out one’s pride, I say that I will join him.
Why is Lent a gift? What do I expect to gain from observing Lent?
It’s an opportunity to follow Jesus and understand him better.
As Christians we try to live like Jesus did. He became human to experience everything that we do, but He keeps His promises and doesn’t give in to temptation. While fasting, we’re hungry or craving chocolate or caffeine and thinking about how easy it would be to make just one cup of coffee or eat just one square of chocolate. In doing that we can join in Jesus’ suffering, remembering also that he made his life a sacrifice, to teach us and ultimately die for us.
It’s a chance to practice self-discipline.
As a blogger my Facebook is full of people promising to coach me to be better at blogging, writing, exercising, and more. You name it, there’s a coach for it. Just about everyone of the webinars and courses is really about practicing discipline. People are paying other people to hold them accountable or to train them to have self-discipline so that they can meet their goals. Relying on ourselves or someone else will never be as effective as relying on God. Lent is the season set aside for us to pray for the gift of self-discipline. We can use this as a chance to practice so that we can accomplish what God wants us to do in our lives.
Grieving and letting go is a learned skill.
As people experience losses in their lives they get better at accepting changes, making the most of what they still have, rebuilding, and mourning with authenticity. For many Christians, the Easter story is the first story of loss that our parents tell us. It’s not just about what Jesus did for us. Also, it’s the story of what we can expect in life. We can expect to experience suffering, grief and eventually death and Jesus is our first example of how to live and die. Like a family saying goodbye to a loved one, while fasting during Lent we learn to accept loss, treasure what we have, rejoice after mourning, and hold onto hope for the future.
We need to be empty in order to be filled up.
So many times I sit down at the end of a long day with my blanket and a cup of tea in front of the television and try to forget that I’m tired, cranky and uncomfortable. I’ve trained myself to be content with soft fabric, hot refreshments and funny stories. If I didn’t run to those things for comfort could I learn to run to Jesus instead? Everyone that I know who has seen the Holy Spirit work in their lives says that it happened for the first time when they felt empty in some way. Fasting gives us an opportunity to feel emptiness and to test our boundaries. How much need must we experience before we see that we need God?
How will you be using the gift of Lent this year?
I’m linking up with other bloggers to talk about Lent at the CWBN Blog Hop.