Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, a season I never knew existed until I attended a Free Methodist college. It was there that I participated in my first Ash Wednesday service, where ashes are smudged on your forehead in the shape of the cross to remind you of your origins and future without Christ: dust. Note, if you choose to go to an early morning Ash Wednesday service before a day of high school teaching, be prepared for many giggles and strange looks. On the *perhaps* good side, you’ll find out which students are willing to let you know you have a smear of dirt on your forehead and which are not.
The church I grew up in didn’t have much more on its church calendar than a weekly potluck, and although I certainly don’t follow the Church calendar religiously, I have come to love it with all its reminders of who we are in relation to Christ. The Lenten season, in particular, is one I love to observe, partly because of how much richer it makes Easter, just like winter. Those who have lived in Southern California their whole lives might not understand this too well, but I truly love and enjoy the freezing temperatures, not just for the sometimes beauty of the snow and ice, and not even just for variety in life, but for how wonderful spring is after that cold, dead time. How much more do I appreciate the new, tender life poking out of the hard, frozen ground when it has come after months of seeming death! As a former Seattleite, I can attest to the same feeling on a sunny day after weeks or even months of gray, drizzly rain. After Lent, a time of dying to self, Easter, with its promise of new life, is glorious!
The Lenten season is a time of willing surrender, a time of service and giving, a time of prayer. Yes, these are things we need to be doing all year long, but this is a focused time for these things, to remember them, to get in the habit of doing them. The forty days of fasting also remind me of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days after His baptism, before He began His ministry. I have a sense of following in His footsteps in a tiny way. Sometimes a great ministry is born out of a giving up. As I surrender something for a time, I remember the great surrender He made when He chose to leave His place of majesty in Heaven to humble Himself for a time here on Earth. Every time I long for whatever it is I gave up, I am reminded of all He gave up for our sake, and I can thank Him. Ideally, it is a time of humility and gratitude.
I always have a little trouble deciding what I will fast from each year. I have fasted from chocolate or sugar numerous times, but I haven’t been sure in the past couple of years whether I’m doing that with pure motives or whether I’m really doing it to lose a few pounds. I have fasted from listening to music in the car–I spent the time in prayer instead–and it turned out to be a beautiful time for me. I loved that I was not only fasting, but also adding something good at the same time.
This year, I thought about what was distracting me from my time with Him after lunch every day and decided to give up those things. I decided on four: novels/biographies/autobiographies (basically anything that tells a story), the comics (which I read without fail every day), email and texts during my quiet time, and sweets after lunch. In addition, my friend found a good family Lenten calendar that I plan to use with my kids every day so I can teach them this practice, as well.
My legalistic side needs to be told that if I forget or fail any time during Lent, God will not love me less. I am not doing this in expectation that I will do it all perfectly. I certainly don’t have to do it at all! I’m only doing it in order to experience Jesus a little more, to follow His footsteps in a very small way, to help a new good habit grow, and to make Easter that much better!
If you plan to participate in Lent, will you comment below and tell me how you plan to do it?