I have to confess...somewhere along the way, I never learned about Lent. It wasn't part of my church life growing up, and it never became part of my spiritual life as a grown up. When Tim and I moved to Birmingham, I heard friends discuss what they were "giving up" for Lent. They'd bemoan the absence of coffee or TV for a few weeks; then it was over. I never understood what it was all about, and honestly, I never explored it.
The past few years I've heard more friends talk about giving something up for Lent with motives that run deeper than denial or deprivation. So, it causes me to wonder what this Lenten season is all about. Frederick Buechner wrote:
After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question of what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves...to answer questions like this is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become.
This past year I've been reading through many of Henri Nouwen's works. The liturgical year provides the framework for much of his writing. As a Catholic priest, Nouwen's calendar was organized by these remembrances and celebrations rather than months and seasons. What a new thought to me: that our daily lives be so mindful of Christ that even our calendar is shaped by His life!
With this thought, Advent took on new meaning this past year for our family. And now, I begin to consider Lent and why and how a believer observes it. When we practice Lent, we "fast." We give something up from Ash Wednesday until Easter. However, we don't merely give up something - we replace it with something else. What? One definition explains that "the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God."
If we are merely denying ourselves a daily chocolate fix to fulfill the Lenten requirement of giving something up, then we are missing the heart of Lent. We are failing to shift our gaze from the world to the Father, asking Him to meet us and fill us and satisfy us. Trusting that He is enough.
During these forty days, we have the opportunity to invite Him to come, to create the space for Him in our lives, and to dedicate that space to Him. I believe that when the forty days transpire, we will find ourselves practicing a new spiritual discipline and walking in a deeper intimacy with Christ. And whether we pick back up that cup of coffee or bar of chocolate, we will not lose the lessons we learned during Lent.
I am praying about how I will honor Lent this year. My reading of late has focused on the spiritual discipline of solitude, so this will be a part of my Lenten observance along with a fast (from what, I don't know yet...). Most importantly, I will consider that Jesus himself looked to God for His true identity; I will ask the questions, ""What does it mean to be me? Who am I becoming, and who am I failing to become?"; and I will listen for His reply.