Discovering the big deal about Lent

As the daughter of a Baptist pastor, I have to say Lent wasn’t a big part of my Easter experience growing up. Chocolate and youth camps on the other hand – they were BIG.

I do recall vague references to ash and pancakes, but for the most part, Lent was something other people observed. It wasn’t a big deal in our family or church.

And it all seemed a bit of a hard sell, to be honest. Fasting, repentance, discipline – I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of any of them. Besides, my dad would say Jesus’ death and resurrection set us free from the law, according to Romans 8:2. So I tucked that nugget in my pocket and headed towards the Easter egg aisle.

It wasn’t until well into my adult life that I started to understand that abstaining from something could actually be a good thing. That instead of a rule to be obeyed, it could be an act of freedom, even worship.

I realised that I don’t have to observe Lent, but perhaps I wanted to. Perhaps it was another way to respond to God’s love toward me.

I reasoned with myself that giving up something for 40 days might help me focus.

Granted, it’s not in my nature to be disciplined. It takes all my strength to make my bed in the morning. Surely my life is too spectacular to spend time making the bed? But then I do, because you know, adulting. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be disciplined; I’d be distracted by the next bright, shiny thing and off I would go.

So, I reasoned with myself that giving up something for 40 days might help me focus. It might remind me of what matters. It might prompt me to think – as others told me – of Jesus’ sacrifice.

I set about deciding what to give up and I landed on kale.

But then I remembered I hate kale and had to find something more meaningful – and difficult – to give up. Let’s just say it’s brown, carbonated and full of caffeine. And for the first time, I knew I’d landed on a kernel of what it meant to observe Lent.

Why? Because it wasn’t easy. I wrestled constantly to remain abstinent, and every time I reached for a Coke, I found myself thinking, well, of Jesus.

I also thought of my friend Meena who lives in poverty in Kolkata, India …

At times when I was having an internal pity party about the enormous sacrifice of giving up one small luxury, I also thought of my friend Meena who lives in poverty in Kolkata, India. I remembered her tiny one-room home and her courage to make a better life.

But thinking of Meena also challenged me that sometimes we give up things in an attempt to identify with those who have less than we do. We hope that our temporary restraint will cause us to experience a day in the life of someone living in poverty.

Of course, it doesn’t come close. Because at any time, I can change my mind. I have the luxury of choice, just as I can choose giving to others.

Jesus had the luxury of choice, and he chose me and you and Meena.

His choice was an act of freedom, not of obligation. He was free to choose and he chose us. He also chose to give up everything that you and I might have life in all its fullness. As the Apostle Paul said, “He became poor that through his poverty, we might be rich” (2Corinthians 8:9).

And so my first experiment with Lent kept me struggling to give up some privileges of life, and yet knowing he loves me. He calls my name in spite of my self-focus. He offers me new life, life to the full, so that I may give it to others.

As he said (in John 10:10): “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” New life, abundant life, is after all the point of Lent. It reminds me what Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all about – every day.

This article is part of a series by different writers about how they plan to observe Lent this year. Stay tuned for more of these stories in coming weeks. We pray that they might enrich your journey towards Easter.