Ahhh it’s that time of year when many contemplate and some participate in the monastic and self-depriving season of Lent. It is practiced among many branches of the Christian tree but it is worth mentioning that it is not actually a biblical practice and in fact some of the reasoning behind it is anti-gospel. Despite that I will be among the many participating this year so here I sit 1 hour left in Fat Tuesday still contemplating the hows and whys.
Even planning to participate this year has caused me quite a dilemma. At first not because I disagreed with the practice of it, but I simply couldn’t think of something to fast from. My life is fairly boring and I can’t really afford a bunch of frivolous or fun things. My one major daily indulgence- instant coffee with sugar seemed to be the likely thing I should give up but I could feel my bitterness and resentment growing at the thought of it and I knew that there was no way I would stay faithful to the commitment. As I added guilt and the anticipation of failure to my list of emotions about Lent I decided to switch gears. I figured maybe I could ADD something to my life…that would do it. Adding extra burden to my life would remind me of the burdens carried by Christ to the cross, it would be in that self-sacrificing vein that Lent is all about right?
Who am I kidding I know better. Besides just where and how was I going to ‘add’ anything extra to my 3x single momming, full time+ working, ministry doing, church planting, mission trip heading life?
With only two days left to ‘pick something’ I got even grumpier and begain to justify myself with all the reasons I don’t usually particpiate. I reminded myself that all the sacrificing had already been done in Christ, that neither religious practices nor objects can impute (give us) righteousness, and then I went back to whole- this isn’t even biblical thing. I worked myself up into a theologically tizzy until every cell in my body screamed to cast of the yoke of religion and run free like a naked hippy, then go home and wrap myself in the fleece Snuggie of grace, having successfully avoided 40 days of contemplation and spiritual disciplines or contrived religious experience.
Guess that was as good of a time as any for a full stop heart-check.
Even you may be saying at this point- What heck…save the drama, just don’t do it. Here are two reasons why I felt compelled to push forward.
1. I could use a season of increased spiritual disciplines. Even though I am in ministry full-time, I am more often then not unintentional or at least unstructured about prayer, bible reading and sacrificing for the gospel. I take them all for granted because they are a normal part of my day. I take God’s presence for granted. I stand to gain quite a bit during a season of reverence. However this alone is not enough make me follow through with participating. The real reason I am participating is:
2. I believe in community. Part of the reason I dislike lent is the huge focus that it puts on the private side of faith. We have enough practices out there that point to faith as an individual thing. According to the Bible Christianity is a communal ‘thing’. I am participating in Lent because the church plant I am a part of is doing it as a church. I believe in shared experience, I believe in the power of God working through a group of people that are united in prayer and purpose. I am doing Lent for the same reason that I didn’t want to do Lent- it’s not about me.
So with the pressure of time running out to pick something, something came to me. I made peace with my heart posture towards the coming season and the pseudo-struggle I had created in my head dissipated. I am ready to happily participate with my team, who’s hearts, motives and theology behind participating are good.
Whether you are or aren’t going to participate here are a few things to think about concerning lent.
- If you are a Christian, participating makes you neither holy nor a pagan. I made a point of saying that Lent wasn’t biblical, but the practices of prayer, fasting, sacrifice, ceremony and even ritual are. As long as you don’t think the process itself will save you, forgive you or make you holy you’re probably fine. Only God himself can do those things.
- If you do or don’t practice do so to the glory of God. Flaunt not your freedom nor piety
- Don’t be reactionary. Most people that have strong emotional reactions for or against Lent are actually reacting to what they perceive as ‘bad Christianity.’ Some think that Christianity has lost a zeal for spiritual disciplines and piety so they make long drawn out cases as to why we SHOULD do it. On the other hand there is the belief that all papal practices (or things that even resemble these practice) should just automatically be thrown out on grounds that the are legalistic or idolatrous. If you practice 40 days of prayer or sacrifice prior to Easter with a pure heart and right motives and call it Lent it does not make you anymore Catholic then someone who meditates on scripture is Buddhist. In Christ we have freedom. You are free to eat or not eat whatever you wish on whichever days you wish ( Matthew 15:11, Romans 14:5) Do it or don’t do it based on a desire to love and worship God not as a reaction to others.
- If you are not going to practice take a moment to thank God for the freedom from works that has been given to you because of the work of Christ.
- If you think beating yourself up, punishing yourself, abnegation or sacrificing, is penance for your sins, let’s go out for coffee. I’ll buy and share the gospel with you and tell you why you don’t have to hurt yourself anymore because the only acceptable penance has already been paid.
- If you enjoy the ceremonies or rituals of church but don’t participate in the community or mission of the church I’d like to take you out for coffee also and explain how those are just as much a part of the faith as your individual spiritual life. If you are celebrating lent think about how you can incorporate community more into the experience.