Sunday, March 1, 2015
For years I thought that Lent was what Catholics did after Fat Tuesday to make themselves feel better about all the donuts they ate. I didn't realize until a few years ago, that Lent wasn't only practiced in Catholic churches but in other evangelical denominations as well. I stumbled upon it when the church I currently attend had an Ash Wednesday service. For some reason that particular year, everyone was asking me what I was going to give up for Lent. I think being asked so many times only served to cement in my mind that I was not going to participate at all. Some would refer to that as my classic stubbornness, I somewhat disagree. At the time, I didn't feel right practicing Lent just because everybody else was doing it. If I had chosen to participate my heart wouldn't have been in it. I would be doing it to get all those people off my back who were asking me what I had given up for Lent! What I didn't understand then, but am starting to grasp now is that Lent is really a time of reflection and heart preparation.
Somehow I saw it as a ritual...maybe because the only question I was asked was "What did you give up for Lent?" I confess to wondering if the things that people do give up for Lent, really make a difference. Does giving up those things change the person from the inside out? Is the change lasting? It most likely depends on whether or not the things we are giving up are the very same things that God has asked us to let go of and give to Him. This is the difference between being led by the Holy Spirit and participating in a religious ritual. This is what I have been sorting my way through right now, during this Lent season.
I didn't set out to participate in Lent this year. Lent found me. Sure, it had crossed my mind. I thought maybe I would give it a try. I even planned to go to the Ash Wednesday service, but I didn't. Ash Wednesday came around and though I longed for a time of quiet reflection in the sanctuary, I couldn't bring myself to go in the building because I was already spent. I was certain there would be people inside and I had nothing left to offer and couldn't risk running into anyone who may want or need a listening ear. So I sat in my car and waited for my oldest to finish with youth group. A few days later I was reading a blog about the twenty one Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by ISIS for their faith. The writer of this blog somehow managed to turn what she was writing about into a prayer of repentance and a call to action for the church. It resonated deeply with me and at the end of her blog she had a free download of daily reflections for Lent. I was so moved that I downloaded and printed them. This is how Lent found me.
Each day since I have been reading and reflecting on these devotions. They cut to the quick. Each day there is something to repent of and something to fast from....something that I would never think to fast from. For some reason I have only really thought of fasting in the context of fasting from food. In one devotional this week, I was encouraged to fast from "chaining myself to petty and purposeless things". I couldn't help but remember those twenty one martyrs as I considered this. I take so much for granted while other Christians know that receiving Christ as Savior is an earthly death sentence the moment they do it. I live in a country where faith and theology are debated. Christians in other countries simply live for Christ and die for Christ....they don't waste time debating. They don't question Lent. They LIVE Lent. They give it ALL up.
I am learning that Lent is a time of reflection. It's a long, intentional time of making room for God to examine my heart. It's a time of surrender so that I can be free to live for Christ because He died for me. When I open my hand to let go of what God asks me to give up, my hand is now open and empty to receive what it is He has to give. It's the secret that the twenty one martyrs knew. To give up is to gain. Just like Paul said in Phillipians 1:21 " For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." In dying to our flesh by letting go of what God asks us to surrender, we gain. So maybe the question we should ask each other this Lent is "What did you gain?" because the truth is that no matter what we give up it pales in comparison to what Christ gave up for us...His life. It only matters that what we gain every time is more of Christ and what we give up every time is more of us....until we realize that all that truly matters is Him.