I grew up in a rule-centered religion, where one gave something up for Lent, like candy or swearing or television because we were told to. It was expected. When I came to know Jesus in a personal way, I gave up giving things up. The rules were too much, and born-again Christians didn't seem to do that. I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I felt free to worship a God who doesn't condemn, but loves.
This year, however, I've been having second thoughts. I don't know if I ever truly understood Lent (despite all the rules being drilled into me!), so I did some research.
I found some answers on the United Methodist Church's website, What is Lent and does it last forty days? (a trusted website).
Is Lent biblical or just a tradition? I'm not sure, but I don't really care. I'm not here to split hairs, and I liked what I read.
For the sake of clarity, I'll use bold blue italic font for the material I quote directly from the website.
Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday.
I never knew that it did not include Sundays!
And the reason it doesn't is because each Sunday is supposed to be a sort of mini-Easter,
and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.
Well, I think that's pretty cool.
Why 40 days?
Because that's how long Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptations of Satan and preparing for His ministry. And if you recall (if you don't I'll remind you)--
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry (Matt 4:2).
I guess that explains why we're asked to fast or give up some sort of food, or something that's important to us--in order to relate to Jesus.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection.
After all, isn't that why Jesus went into the desert?
So all those years of giving up chocolate or swearing or television---it was done for all the wrong reasons. I HAD to do it, because that's just what we did---and maybe there was some piousness there too. Look at me and how wonderful I am that I am giving this up.
But I think I missed out on something all the years that I gave up giving up things.
You might think, as I did/do:
I KNOW God loves me--unconditionally--so why do I need to do all that Lent stuff?
Repentance, fasting, and preparation for Easter in the spirit of self-examination and reflection are privileges, not duties that I must perform in order to stay in God's good graces. When I changed my perspective, I discovered that my heart changed as well.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139: 23-24
Create in me a pure heart, O God
and renew a steadfast spirit within me...
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me
As we enter into this holy and somewhat somber season--with joyful Sundays in between--might I suggest that you join me in giving up myself for forty days?
Let us give up our offensive ways in order to be led into the way everlasting. Let us give up our soiled hearts and ask Him to cleanse us and renew our spirits, to restore to us the joy of His salvation. Let us give up our wills and ask Him to grant us a willing spirit to sustain us in preparation for His glorious Resurrection.
And if chocolate, swearing, or television are a part of that, so be it.
Are you with me?
Blessings Along the Path,
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