22 February 2012

ReThinking Lent

Every year around this time, I'm amazed at how much talk about the Lent season there is. Growing up, I never participated in Lent, and the only references I heard to it were from the mouths of Catholics. Thanks to social media publicizing it (and probably efforts to recover the rich religious tradition), Lent has seemed to become the "norm" in the Christian sphere.

Problem is, it seems as though we have in many ways reduced Lent to a second New Years' resolution. Did your first one not work out for you? Well, just wait until a second opportunity presents itself in February...! This new New Years' resolution seems all the more binding, as it isn't merely a "resolution" anymore but is a pact with God Himself. All of a sudden, the Lent season has become a chance to lose weight, tone our bodies, abstain from drinking coffee or soda, and "bettering" ourselves. At least, on the outside.
(My personal favorite is when people choose to abstain from certain vices or sins. Shouldn't we as Christians be striving to expel sin from our lives at all times and not just for 40 days during Lent?)

As the peer pressure amounts ("What are you giving up for Lent?"), I'm finding that I need to be reminded about what Lent is really about. Lent is supposed to serve as a reminder of what Christ gave up for us. It is a time to mourn over our sins and realize how dependent we are on God's mercy. It is a time of repentance, reflection, and humbleness.

Giving up something for Lent, then, is not an end in itself but is a means to an end. Our goal should be to draw closer to Christ, not to shed x many pounds or run x many miles a day. While fasting and exercising certainly can become instruments whereby we better experience God's presence (I talk best to God while I'm running, for instance), the goal should not be to just complete these tasks and check them off of our list of things to do.
Maybe instead of giving something up we should add something to our lives. Sometimes, the presence of something new can invoke a sense of God's presence that the absence of something couldn't do. A few years ago, for instance, I wrote a little note to 40 different people, thanking them for their influence in my life and encouraging them in their faith. This helped me become aware of God in ways that forfeiting coffee can't.

I'm not giving up or adding anything this year, but that's ok. The quality of my relationship with God is not dependent on my participation in Lent. I am, however, trying to be aware of how God is present with me in each and every moment (read here). As sinful as I am, God has still chosen to make his dwelling place among me.

That's something to reflect on.

Photo credit: "Diet" by h-aniko

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