Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent Begins

   Today is Ash Wednesday, and unless you grew up Catholic or in a fairly liturgical church, that probably doesn't mean much to you.  I know it never really meant much to me--the church I grew up in never observed it or really talked much about it at all.  The only thing I knew about Lent was it was when people that I never knew were religious moped about how they were giving up candy or Cokes for Lent, then a day or two later they were right back to their old habits. I thought it was a Catholic thing, and that probably meant it didn't apply to me or that it might even somehow be wrong for me to participate.

   Then, a few years ago, we had moved cross-country and started attending a new church.  Our new church wasn't particularly liturgical, but I read about an upcoming Ash Wednesday service they were holding.  I honestly had no idea what it was all about, so I did some reading and decided to give the whole Lent thing a try.  I felt like such a phony wearing ashes on my forehead that first time, like someone would find out that I didn't know what I was doing.  I didn't, but that didn't stop me from being deeply impacted by Lent, and it's a season that I choose to continue observing regardless of what the rest of my congregation chooses.  

   Contrary to what I had always thought, Lent is about so much more than "giving up" something for 40 days.  (And did you know that Lent actually lasts longer than 40 days?  Fasting is not practiced on Sundays as every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, and not a day for mourning.  So the 40 days does not include Sundays.) Traditionally, there are three basic principles of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving/service.  So yes, you may choose to abstain from something (fasting) for a time, but Lent also encourages us to focus on our prayer life and on our service to those around us.  I love that. 

   What I found through the few short years that I have been observing Lent is that I am reminded daily, if not several times a day, how much I need a savior.  I become much more aware of my sin and my shortcomings. By eliminating something from my life, even temporarily, I am always amazed at how much more time I have for the things that matter- my family, my marriage, my prayer life... And Resurrection Sunday is so much sweeter when your heart is prepared and has been marinating on your own unworthiness in comparison to the unequaled sacrifice of Jesus.  It's like my whole being longs for the morning when I can shout "Alleluia!!"  Just like the preparation and waiting of Advent magnifies the joy of Christmas morning, Lent sets the stage perfectly for the Resurrection Celebration. 
   This year, I have committed to an additional 30 minutes of prayer time daily as I pray through the book Returning to Holiness by George Frizzel.  His book takes a scriptural and systematic approach to deep personal cleansing and confession of sin- how appropriate for Lent.  After lots of prayer and searching, I felt the Lord leading me to fast from things that were taking my time and attention from His glory and His work, rather than from some aspect of food.  For me, that means I am choosing to step away from Facebook and Netflix.  Being a rule follower and a bit too checklist oriented, I do realize how Lent could become legalistic or feel obligatory, or feel like a works-based aspect of man-made religion.  I am sharing this not to set myself as any sort of example, but to show you how Lent has already worked in my heart on this, the very first day.  

   My plan was to also sacrifice a bit of sleep and get up a bit earlier for my extra prayer time before starting the rest of my day.  This morning when my alarm went off, I promptly shut it off and went back to sleep, telling myself I'd do it during naptime.  I got up at my usual time, got dressed, made breakfast for Abigail and me, and visited with her and scrolled through Facebook while we ate.  ::facepalm::  I didn't even realize I'd been on Facebook until a bit later when I was thinking through my day and realized that it was Ash Wednesday.  So friends, please know that there is absolutely no judgement coming from me- I didn't even make it through the first hours of my day without breaking my commitment to God.  He took the opportunity to humble me right from the start of Lent. I think that's because He knows that I have a tendency toward pride and self-righteousness and still somehow believing that I can earn His favor.  (You better believe that made for a very humbling prayer time, which did in fact happen during naptime.) 

   I am grateful for Lent.  I am grateful for a time to intentionally prepare myself to celebrate the pinnacle of my faith, Christ's resurrection.  I am grateful for a time to share the tiniest drop of sacrifice in light of what was sacrificed for me.  If you observe Lent, I pray that it will have the same sweet effect on you that it has on me.  If you do not, consider joining in this year and seeing what it might have to offer you.  We're only one day in, so it's still a perfect time to join.  

  Would you share your experiences with Lent with me?  

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