Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reflections on Lent

Growing up, I was one of the only kids in my class who did not attend the Catholic church across the street from our elementary school. Sometime after Valentine's Day each year, I would hear my classmates talking about Lent. They shared about having to eat fish on Fridays and giving up sugary treats "for Lent", but I had no understanding of what they meant - and honestly, I'm not convinced that THEY knew why they were making these sacrifices either. It was just the thing to do.

Fast forward a bunch of years . . . I'm married with young children, and I want to make holiday celebrations meaningful and significant for my young family. It was at that time that I began to see the beauty of the Lenten season and how it could help us as a family to grow in seeking God together.

I discovered that Lent is a season of preparation . . . an opportunity to remove distractions and prepare to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection. There are three practices of Lent - fasting, prayer, and service. Each one of these has a purpose in helping to prepare our hearts.

Fasting is all about growing in our reliance upon God. I don't know about you, but I can't fast anything - not television, not chocolate, not Facebook, nothing - without being reminded of how much I need Him! When I've tried fasting in my own strength (and yes, I've done that 😔), inevitably one of two things will happen: either I will absentmindedly engage in the thing I'm "fasting" - like snacking on sweets while fixing treats for my kids, or I will justify why it's okay for me to indulge in something that I'm supposed to be fasting - like having cake because it's someone's birthday and I don't want to hurt their feelings. 

I needed to learn to fast correctly, and the only way to do that is by asking God what to fast from - asking Him to show me what is hindering me from going deeper in intimacy with Him. And then, the most important part - leaning on Him and relying on His grace to fast correctly. When I've done that, the time of fasting has been virtually effortless because I'm not relying on my ability but upon His!

Fasting and prayer in the Bible are almost always mentioned together, so it makes sense that prayer is a practice of Lent as well. In Ezra 8:21, fasting and prayer are combined with humility . . . recognizing that I am NOT "all that and a bag of chips." It's my pride that drives me to present an image of having it all together, and sadly this can even happen in my relationship with God. But during Lent, the goal is to create space in my schedule to connect with God in the secret place - to hear His voice and allow myself to be vulnerably real with Him. When I do that, He begins to fill me up, restoring the broken places and healing to the wounds.

As I grow in intimacy with God through fasting and prayer, I am now prepared to give out to others in service - or "almsgiving" - the third practice of Lent. As a follower of Jesus, I'd like to think that I serve others regularly. But this season is a reminder to serve intentionally and purposefully. It's a call to think of ways to minister to others in a way that will point them to Jesus instead of me. Sometimes that means doing something anonymously so that the person being blessed doesn't know where the blessing is coming from. Other times, it's doing something for a person who isn't in a position to do anything in return. And as I serve, I'm following the example of Jesus . . . after all, "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others" (Mark 10:45 NLT).

So now, I actually look forward to the Lenten season - to the richness of this time of quieting my heart before Him and listening to His voice. I know that as I enter this time of fasting, prayer, and service to others, I'll be forever changed!

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