Lent: More than a Goodbye to Candy
Some of you may be familiar with practicing lent and to others it may be something new. I didn't grow up practicing lent so the whole thing is relatively new to me. I think my first exposure to lent was from the movie Au Chocolate… anyone? An un-churched lady opens a chocolate shop during lent in a traditional, small town in France and anyone walking by is teased by the sights and smells of the exquisite chocolate, the whole thing is very enticing… and watching it made me want to indulge in some fine chocolate, buuuuut let’s be real here...I want dark chocolate every day.
No knock on the movie but I’ve been thinking I need to delve into what lent is a little more thoroughly. And although lent is not in the bible, christians have been practicing lent forever...circa 325 AD So there’s got to be something worthy of consideration here. So with the help of google, I’ve been looking into the who, what, when and why of lent. To cut to the point, pretty much I found out Lent is a lot more than just staying away from candy for 40 days. But yes, definitely big props to all of you giving up sweets right now!
Apparently it’s pretty standard for older catholics to associate lent with giving something up, one Catholic Online writer says that for a child that thing would be candy. The writer says that the reward for the lapse in candy eating would be all the Easter candy- how convenient right? Another story goes that a devout catholic parent urged his children to move beyond the default of giving up candy but to give up a sinful habit during lent. One of the sons chose to give up fighting with his siblings during lent and his dad asked him how it was going. The boy answered “pretty good Dad -- but boy I can’t wait until Easter! Giving something up for a time, food, sweets, entertainment, social media, fasting, these things are a godly practice and for good reason. But I don't want to do lent like those kiddos, seemingly without a heart change and merely return to my old ways after 40 days. As I’ve been grappling through all this lenten stuff I’ve been wanting to take things a step deeper, an inward change that moves me closer to the cross. Living out the gospel takes a continual renewal and for me that is what lent is about. A time set aside to look upon our Jesus and allow him to renew us to become more like Him. Hinds Feet for Hindes Places - an allegorical novel by Hannah Hurnard is about a young woman, Much Afraid and her journey away from her Fearing family and into the High Places with the Shepherd. The Shepherd gives her two companions for the challenging journey: Suffering and Sorrow. Lent is often referred to as a journey. And in true Hannah Hurnard style, I would choose the characters Humility and Reflection for my Lenten journey of renewal towards the cross of Jesus Christ. Humility - a character Jesus embraces and embodies perfectly. The New Testament shows Jesus possessing a strong, undiluted form of humility as he makes his journey to the cross. His humility is vital to the whole thing. Philippians 2 shows us Jesus’ humility: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
In his book, Humility, True Greatness, C.J, Mahaney defines humility like this: "Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. That's the twin reality that all genuines humility is rooted in: God’s holiness and our sinfulness." God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6) and man, do I need need grace! Humility is a pursuit and like Jesus, I need to embrace humility to allow God to renew and transform me to be more like Him. I like how John Stott puts it: “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” I believe without humility we are both blind and lame. We can’t see where the danger is and we don’t have the ability to move to safety because we’re thinking too much of ourselves.
Reflection - in our fast-paced, go-get-em world reflection is a square peg in a round hole. Reflection is necessary to be aware of what is distracting me from Jesus. I need to make some soul space for humility and reflection so that God can bring awareness of what sin needs to be rooted up completely.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18
To be honest, reflection is not my strong point so this verse is a relief for me. As I reflect on Jesus and the cross, He transforms me. God’s Spirit will come and guide, counsel, and convict me.
As we look to and reflect on Jesus, we will see only He is worthy! Only God can hold the weight of our souls longings, everything else our soul strives for will eat us up! (Timothy Keller sermon) Lent may be a time to scrutinize how much of our soul, our sense of value, our justification is misplaced in our accomplishments, our image, our relationships, and how much of our mental real estate may be wrapped up in a misplaced value.
Where I find humility and reflection converge is in prayer. I’m going for more continual and vibrant times of prayer. I’m asking that He will renew me, help me focus on who God is as my pen scribbles out a prayer, my fingers type out some thoughts, or I talk with Him as I wash some dishes, whether it’s on my knees, or in the car, on the go...prayer. The simple act of communicating with God is powerful.
I came across this gem of a prayer, not my normal prayer style but so much richness to it, here’s a few lines from The Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses
Make our hearts like to Thine.
I’m anticipating some challenges during these 40 days as I try to “companion” with humility and reflection but I think we can all find comfort in unity knowing that countless people around the world for centuries upon centuries have choosen to refocus in on God during this time. I have a couple resources in my back pocket to help along the way that may be a resource for some of you too. One is a Lenten devotion and another is a list of questions to help point to anything that is vying for a higher place than God in my life.
However you choose to practise lent, as we approach Easter may we find ourselves at the heart of lent, which is the heart of God, which we see through Jesus’ humble and powerful act of love on the cross. It is only here where we can find ourselves renewed and experience new life.