I grew up in a “low-church” world.
We sang gospel music out of “camp-meeting” songbooks, had “testimony” services, “prayed through” at the altar and didn’t mind a bit of jitterbuggin’ for Jesus.
So clearly, I never celebrated Lent.
Truth be told, I didn’t even know what it was until I was in seminary. Church calendars were high-brow stuff for the hoity-toity, liturgy-lovin’, hymn-singin’, robe-wearin’ types.
You get the picture. Spiritual arrogance in its Sunday best.
It was later in life as I became friends with clergy of all stripes that I was imprinted with the meaning of the seasons of the Faith. I realized I had missed a lot in my casual, shoot-from-the-hip, leisure-suit spirituality.
Come to find out, there was much I could learn from my spiritual older brothers.
These brothers have deeply impacted my practice of concentrating my life in two particular seasons every year: Advent and Lent.
- Advent is a season of celebration for me. I revel in the miracle of a God who loves me so much that He would come and live in my world.
- Lent is a season of concentration for me. I reflect on the mystery of a God who loves me so much that He would come and die in my place.
Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent, which ends on Resurrection Sunday. My spiritual siblings from the historic branch of the family head to their churches early to have a cross rubbed on their foreheads from the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday fronds.
It is a lovely symbol of hearts turning toward the Cross.
Many in the Faith will lay aside certain habits, pleasures, luxuries or necessities during these 40-plus days of the Lenten remembrance.
That has become my practice. This year I asked myself, “Why?”
The societal climate in which I live has the strength of a boa constrictor to squeeze me out of shape and digest whatever in me is rightly prioritized.
Whether it is popular culture, social media, nightly news, flabby appetites or a lazy lifestyle, it is entirely too easy to let my faith slide. Like a boat that’s lost its anchor, I drift with the tide until I can no longer see the shore that I call home.
I wish it weren’t true.
Steady. True. Faithful. Unmoved. Committed. These are traits that I ache to see characterize my soul. I want desperately to be fixed to the Rock and unshakable in the storm.
But let’s be real. It is harder than it sounds.
So each year, I change some habits, alter some lifestyle, adjust some priorities and deny some desires in order to clear the line of sight between me and the beauty of grace.
I love Paul’s reminder to the Believers at Colossae: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
Here are my very personal re-asons to honor Lent.
- Re-balancing: because my priorities gets skewed. The demands of my job, the needs of family, the tug of friends and the pull of the culture can easily shift me out of balance. Lent lets me put things back in their proper place.
- Re-focus: because my view gets distorted. The clutter of pragmatic agnosticism that accumulates in my mind from the thinking of an upside down world needs a good old-fashioned spring cleaning. Lent lets me realign my mindset to my created purpose.
- Re-newing: because my heart gets tired. The weariness that builds up from seeing the pain and suffering both at my door and on distant shores demands a refreshing shower of grace. Lent lets me rest in cool waters for a little while.
- Re-focusing: because my gratitude gets thin. The incessant demands of my less-than-satisfied soul tends to build a physic grumpiness into my attitude toward the daily-ness of life. Lent lets me count my blessings with unhurried thanks.
- Re-calibrating: because my values get compromised. The stuff that climbs the ladder of importance in my life sometimes loses touch with what is really significant. Lent lets me rearrange my motives to match my beliefs.
- Re-turning: because I am prone to wander. The simple truth is the front tires on this vehicle called Mike get out of line and without paying attention I subtly change lanes. Lent lets me correct course so that I will get to my desired destination.
In the journey to the Friday Cross and the Sunday Tomb, I want to more fully grasp the depth, breadth, length and height of the love demonstrated in Easter.
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Lent is a holy season for me to practically pursue the heart of the God who passionately pursues my heart every day.
Honoring Lent doesn’t make me feel superior to Christians who don’t. If anything, the fasting, prayer, Scripture-focus and preparation I do simply demonstrates my constant need of redirection.
Honestly, I wish I didn’t need Lent. But I do.
Jesus laid aside everything to come and clearly demonstrate the enormous love the Father has always had for me–since He thought me up even before creating a planet to house me.
During Lent, I lay aside some things–good and not-so-good–so that I can clearly demonstrate the enormous need I feel for that love and just how much it means to me.
That is why in this season I re-orient my life toward what matters most…and hope that each year my life needs just a little less tweaking toward His image.