What are you giving up for Lent?
If you haven’t grown up in the Catholic or Anglican tradition then often our idea of Lent is connected to this idea of “giving something up.”
You might not know too much more than that but you are trying to give up your Tim’s for Lent. Or maybe it’s social media, or all those desserts. Whatever it is, you have this feeling that it will be good for you. A little less of anything will likely be better for you in the long run (or at least that’s what you tell yourself).
I confess, I didn’t grow up following the Christian calendar and so I didn’t really know much about Lent until later in my adult life. So let me explain it a little. The Christian calendar contains different seasons. These seasons are “time-gifts” that the church offers to help us participate more fully in what God has done in human history. For example, most of us are familiar with the gifts of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter—times when we focus on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. For most, these celebrations have great meaning to us. They are “gifts” to us in that they give us the opportunity to reflect on the great spiritual realities associated with them.
So what is Lent about? Well, let’s start with bit of church history. The first mention of Lent appears in the Council of Nicea of 325 CE. This Council produced one of our most important creeds: the Nicene Creed. At that time, Lent referred to a special time of preparation for new converts before they were received into the Christian church on Easter Sunday. In addition, it was also a time of restoration for those who had fallen in their faith. Eventually Lent took on a greater meaning for all believers in the church.
Lent began with Ash Wednesday (that’s today) and carried through for forty days (not including Sundays) to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Through the forty days of Lent, Christians were encouraged to engage in three spiritual practices, each of which is mentioned in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: giving to the poor, prayer and fasting (Mt.6:1-18).
In the contemporary church the practice of Lent is an invitation to every one of us to reflect on the work of Jesus Christ, affecting not only our hearts but our actions towards others as well. Individuals are encouraged to reflect deeply through the spiritual practices of fasting, prayer and scripture reading, and then in turn, live sacrificially through acts of generosity and kindness.
Often Christians commit to certain actions through the forty days of Lent: such as giving something up, getting up early to pray and read scripture, or looking for those opportunities to be generous and loving each day.
Why not consider entering into Lent this season by taking on a spiritual practice. Give something up. Take something out of your schedule. Eat less. Sleep less. Carve out time through the next forty days to pay attention to God’s presence in your life.
Then take on a new practice. With the time you’ve gained by giving something up, consider reading a chapter a day in the Gospel of John (or maybe the book of Exodus in the Old Testament). But don’t just read the Gospel ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, so that each day you put something into practice that you sense God is speaking to you about.
There are many ways to pause for Lent. No matter what we choose, the important thing is to keep Jesus Christ as the center of your focus, looking to him throughout your day, and offering your self as a living sacrifice to him.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.” Romans 12:1 NLT
[Adapted from Trevor Hudson’s Pauses For Lent]