Season of Lent

               The Season of Lent begins Wednesday, March 9th with Ash Wednesday.  I’ve always found Lent to be an interesting church season.  Early on in my faith journey I didn’t really understand much about Lent.  I knew that “lint” came out of my dryer screen, but I definitely didn’t know what “Lent” was.  From attending a “Lenten” study I soon learned that Lent was the time of forty days, not including Sundays, prior to Easter.  That was confusing, why not include Sundays?  The answer I got from my Lenten study instructor was, “Because every Sunday is like a ‘little’ Easter.”  That really didn’t answer my question.  Another item I learned during my Lenten study was that a practice of Lent was to give up something during those forty days.  Most of the folks in my study group had already thought about and had prepared for what they would give up during Lent.  Their list included things like chocolate, soda pop, eating out during the work week, things like that.  If you know me, you know that I am the perpetual question asker, so I had to ask, “Why are we giving up something for Lent and what point does it make?”  A fellow student answered me, “Because we have to be willing to give things up for God.”  Now that perplexed me even more…what does God care about chocolate, soda pop or eating out?  Are we sending the leftover chocolate and soda pop to Heaven for God to enjoy?  The whole thing was rather confusing to me, but in a quest to not to be viewed as the weirdo new person in class, I gave up Diet Coke for Lent.  In hindsight that was a very poor decision for a multitude of reasons including the fact that Kathy minus caffeine does not equal a happy lady.   So my first few experiences with the Season of Lent could be summed up with following what the masses did and really not understanding what it was that we were doing.  Soon, I found out that the masses didn’t know what they were doing either.

               A few years later and after some personal study and further question asking regarding the purpose of the Season of Lent, I finally discovered what Lent is really all about and I came to a couple of conclusions that I still believe are true today.  My conclusions:  1.  Popular culture has dumbed down the true meaning and purpose of  Lent.  2.  Most church folks follow popular culture’s version of Lent rather than the real purpose and practices of Lent.  3.  When we follow the real purpose and practices of Lent we are blessed with a forty day journey that will grow our faith in and understanding of God. 

               So what is Lent really all about?  Lent is a time of preparation.  In the early church and in some churches still today Lent’s purpose was to prepare people to be baptized on Easter morning.  So what does giving up Diet Coke for forty days have to do with getting baptized on Easter morning?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  But giving up your sinful life and entering into a new life with Christ through baptism is a very significant.  Am I saying that drinking Diet Coke is sinful?  NO!  Not at all!  Or at least I sure hope not (I type as I’m drinking a Diet Coke).  This is where popular culture’s purpose and practice of Lent has gotten so confused.  Diet Coke has nothing to do with it!  And giving up Diet Coke is not a true, significant practice of Lent. 

So if you have already been baptized, what is the real meaning and purpose of Lent for you?  It’s still a time of preparation.  It’s a time to prepare our hearts and souls for the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows.  Admittedly, the preceding sentence is the “churchy” definition…so, here’s the real way to apply it in your life.  The season of Lent, the forty days, is a time for baptized people to more intentionally connect their relationship with God.  It’s a time when people take time from their normal, daily activities and ask themselves, “What do I need to do to be in a better, healthier relationship with God?”  Now this is where the giving something up comes into play.  Often, without even realizing it, people develop bad habits that cause a distance between them and God.  Maybe we stop giving to people who have a need because we have decided that we want a boat for weekend family entertainment.  We can’t afford to give to others and take care of our own so we stop helping others in order to bring entertainment to ourselves.  That would be an example of creating a distance between us and God, when we become selfish rather than giving as Christ taught us to be.  Or another example might be, instead of attending a weekly bible study we decide to enroll ourselves in a knitting class.  Another way that instead of growing closer to God we get further away.  Now, I’m not saying that having boats to take weekend family trips and knitting classes aren’t healthy Christian things to do, that’s not what I’m saying at all.  But what I am saying is when we make the choice to let things, people or events take priority over and time away from our growing our relationship with God then we are being sinful.  I am also saying that when we become so selfish that we would rather buy something for ourselves that is a want and not a need, rather than using our financial blessings to cover our needs and the needs of others then we are being sinful.  A boat is not a need.  A knitting class is not a need.  If you are blessed financially to where you can cover your family’s needs, help others with their needs and you still have enough left over to buy a boat then that is awesome!  God has really blessed you, be thankful and enjoy that boat!  If you have enough time in your week to attend worship, Bible study, serve others and attend a knitting class, then by all means go to that knitting class!  God has blessed you with time and use it to the glory of God!  This is where the giving up concept has come into play.  During the Season of Lent baptized persons have the opportunity to evaluate their life and ask themselves, “Am I living for God, or am I living for only myself?”  And if the answer is only myself, it’s time to give up the things that put distance between us and God and get back to focusing on God’s will for our lives.

Again, I have to ask, “Why are we giving up something for Lent and what point does it make?”  If you are giving up Diet Coke for Lent, tell me, really, is Diet Coke causing distance between you and God?  Probably not.  This is where popular culture has really dumbed down the meaning of Lent.  Giving up Diet Coke doesn’t do much to grow one’s relationship with God, and in my particular case it probably worsened my relationship with God because I was so grumpy when I didn’t have my morning Diet Coke that God probably didn’t want to spend much time with me!  J 

But on the serious side of things, during this year’s Lenten season between Ash Wednesday and Easter I plan to give up recording and watching episodes of television show “Say Yes to the Dress”.  I have found that my obsession with watching newly engaged brides pick out a ridiculously expensive wedding dress has caused me to miss precious time I should be spending with my family.  I believe that the hours I spend watching this television show has caused me to distance myself from my son and my husband in ways that I do not think glorify God.  Needless to say, they are in NO way interested in watching a wedding dress show with me.  But…they would love to play a game of basketball together, outside, just the three of us.

So, what you need to give up this Lent in order to grow closer to others and closer to God?  My prayer is that all that we choose to “give up” this Lenten season will help us to grow closer to others and closer to God through ways that our relationships and conversations glorify God in ways that we’ve not accomplished before.  And my prayer is that we all have a healthier relationship with God and others because of our efforts.  May you have a blessed Lent!
Pastor Kathy