Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Observing Lent

Growing up in a Baptist church, Lent was not taught or observed. The Easter season was essentially the week before Easter. When I went to college and met women from other denominations, I began to seek an understanding of Lent since several of my close friends observed the Lenten season. Many of them would begin their discussions before Ash Wednesday as to what they would "give up" for the next 40 days. But they rarely talked about the symbolic nature of this self-denial. Despite many questions and conversations, I was left thinking that for most it was an opportunity to shed a few pounds since bathing suit season followed closely after the Lenten season.

It really wasn't until I was enrolled in Seminary taking a church history class that I had the opportunity to grapple with questions surrounding many traditions within the church. And more, to find out the truest reason for observing those traditions. When I spent time researching the reasons for Lent, I became intensely aware that those 40 days could be an opportunity to set my mind and heart straight in preparation for celebration for Easter.

The opportunity to observe Lent became less about what I was "giving up" and more about sacred time with my Heavenly Father. For most of my life I have done a daily quiet time and studied the Word of God in bible studies. But the Lenten season has allowed me the chance to take even more time to be still and quiet before the Lord. It allows me to search deep within myself and ask hard questions:
~What kind of prayer life do I really have?
~What are the idols in my life that are preventing complete unity with God?
~Where have I been un-Christlike?

A dear friend emailed me an article today that I wish I had read years ago. It is written by a pastor* who in the most simple terms defined Lent. I wanted to highlight a few of his thoughts.

"The Lenten season is the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam; it’s a time to take stock of our lives, {in particular} our hearts. Keeping Lent, however, is potentially dangerous, precisely because of this focus on the heart. After all, it is much easier to read a book on prayer than to spend time leisurely speaking with our heavenly Father. It is much easier to fast from certain foods than it is to turn from idols of the heart. It is much easier to write a check than to spend time in ministries of mercy. Consequently, Lent is easily trivialized. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin!"

He does an incredible job of explaining how to truly observe Lent in four basic {hopefully "overlapping"} ways: self-examination, self-denial, acts of compassion, and using the means of grace. What I have found to be true for many people is that the focus of Lent is only about one aspect, self-denial. Rarely is that denial replaced with scripture memorization, additional prayer time or serving someone in need.

As a parent, observing Lent correctly is not only for my own spiritual growth, it is for the spiritual growth for our family. We need to take the time to stop and ask hard questions of ourselves and to follow through with actions that glorify our Heavenly Father. As a family, what could be a more sacred opportunity as we prepare our hearts for Easter?

~Hebrews 13.15-16~
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of 
praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good 
and to share with others for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

*Rev. Craig Higgins, Pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Rye, NY.
Part One, Part Two

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