An Introduction to Practicing Lent
February 22, 2022 | Tracy Troxel
What is Lent?
I know that not all of us have observed Lent. Lent is one of the seasons that make up the church calendar (along with Advent, Easter, and others). Typically observed for 40 days (not including Sundays), this season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. It is observed for 40 days because Scripture tells us that Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days before beginning His formal earthly ministry. Commonly misunderstood as “giving up” something in order to find favor with God, Lent is simply a tool that can be used to help us draw closer to Jesus and prepare well to joyfully celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is a solemn, somber time of observance that is marked with lament, fasting, and feasting.
In the past, I thought that observing Lent consisted of giving up something in order to earn God’s favor. Naturally, that understanding of Lent discouraged me from making this a part of my spiritual life. In recent years, I’ve come to understand how intentionally following the church calendar can lead to real spiritual growth.
Lent helps us focus on our own mortality. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we were made of dust and to dust we will return. As we prepare to focus on the death of Christ during Holy Week, it is healthy to contemplate our own finite lives. As Psalm 90 tells us, “Teach us to number our days.” This time also leads us to lament over our sin. As we prepare to remember the death of Jesus on Good Friday and celebrate His resurrection on Easter, we must understand our sinfulness and Lent gives us opportunities to do just that.
Fasting from something during Lent is a time to symbolically follow Jesus into the wilderness. These 40 days are a time of preparation, not a time of self-punishment.
“The purpose of these disciplines is not to punish ourselves for our sins. Jesus took all the punishment for us. Rather, the disciplines are meant to empty us so that the Lord may fill us. We are making ourselves available to Christ in hopes of growing our faith.” (Fr. Thomas McKenzie)
Traditionally, Lenten fasts involved abstaining from food of some sort (meat, eggs, etc.). Recently, many of those who fast have fasted from other things (social media, entertainment, unnecessary shopping, etc.). Whatever you’re considering fasting from, it should be something of which you acutely feel the absence and that will allow you to be filled with Jesus.
One of the oft overlooked practices of Lent is feasting. We are called not to just “give something up” but to feast on something that strengthens the fast. Feasting can be doing a special devotional, making a commitment to pray once a day, or volunteering to serve somewhere once a week. Start with something simple and small and build as you can. The objective: grow closer to Jesus throughout this season. Appropriate lamenting and fasting during this time prepares us to more fully celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
We’ve provided a number of resources to guide you through this season (found here). Let me encourage you to consider using Lent as a way to move forward in your walk with Christ.