It seems we’ve only just celebrated Christmas, and here it is, already time to consider the Lenten season leading from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Yes, Ash Wednesday is Feb. 17, and it is time to think about what that means for us as we still our hearts and minds to listen to God.
Lent is another period on the Christian calendar that was not recognized in the church where I grew up. My only awareness of Lent was that some of my friends “gave up” candy or TV “for Lent,” so I logically assumed that it was a time of deprivation of the good things we enjoy.
Only as an adult did I come to realize that the 40-day season of Lent is holy, a time for self-reflection, repentance, prayer, and also of self-denial, in whatever form that takes. It is a time to remember that we are mortal and that we are sinful, but also a time to look forward to the life and resurrection that Easter brings at the end of the period of Lent.
Historically, Christians fasted at certain times during Lent, as Jesus did in the wilderness before He began His ministry. That was the “sacrifice” that they presented to God as part of Lent. Many still fast on Ash Wednesday as they confess their sins, remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, and pray for restoration and renewal.
These days, however, I think it is appropriate to think of the “self-denial” that the season contemplates in a different way. Instead of, or in addition to giving up chocolate, binging on Netflix or shopping on Amazon, we might give consideration to how we can take positive action in the spirit of self-denial for the benefit of others. Romans 12:1-2 speaks of sacrificing ourselves in this way: “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”
Can we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice dedicated to His service? If so:
We might save the money we spend on treats or shopping and donate it to the local food pantry to feed those less fortunate, or roll over our next stimulus check for that purpose. We could use the time we’d spend binging on Netflix to pray for those who are struggling with loss of loved ones or prolonged illness. Instead of focusing on giving something up, we might dedicate our energy to volunteer at a local organization that serves the community or our church. We could commit time out of our busy days to meditate on the meaning of Lent and Easter, and explore different ways to pray. We might spend an hour offering support to a friend or neighbor, or simply letting someone know how much we appreciate them. We could find a way to learn something new that we could share with someone – some cultural or spiritual practice or a few words in a language that we know a friend or neighbor speaks. Since many of us are unable to worship together in person, we might find someone with whom we can share our spiritual journeys, talk about the meaning of Lent and pray together.
Lent can be a time when we rededicate ourselves to making the world a better, kinder place for ourselves and others, and in doing so, share the spirit of self-giving that Jesus modeled for us. This is an opportunity to turn towards God and each other and to share His love in every aspect of our lives.