This March, I made the decision to participate in Lent. Now I’m not a Catholic, and so I didn’t worry about only eating fish for dinner on Fridays, but in this crazy-busy world it isn’t hard to see the value in abstaining from something in order to make room for more important things. So what’s it all about? Packaged simply, Lent is a 40 day period of reflection, repentance and preparation which begins on Ash Wednesday, and ends with the celebration of the triumph of Easter Sunday. This post is the summary of my first experience of Lent.
Where do you start? Everyone’s journey through Lent will be different depending on the time and the resources you can give, but there is always reward in actively engaging in acts of hospitality with God and others through a re-prioritisation of time or a commitment to different tasks. Starting small, I subscribed to a daily devotional from a popular Bible website which walked me through the gospel of Mark, mixed in with words of wisdom from church fathers throughout history. I spent time each morning in reflection of God’s story and the privilege I have of playing a part in it – and remembering that it’s not the other way around. This space was enlarged by fasting from social media (which must have unintentionally caused some confusion because I didn’t tell anyone I was absent, and mid-way through we announced that we’re expecting a baby via my wife’s Facebook account. My obvious lack of presence in these threads must have seemed odd). The redemption of time normally consumed by social media was remarkably noticeable for me. Creating space for something like Lent meant that I was making more decisions that were geared toward loving God and loving others, rather than gratifying my own wants. It also helped me to intentionally and slowly enter into both the passion and the joy of Easter, so that I didn’t just arrive at it unreflectively and as multi-tasking as ever.
The important point in this, of course, is not scoring points with God, but as an act of hospitality – the creation of space so that the Person and transforming Presence of God might be more closely attended to. Laying down or taking up are invitations to enter into grace, not earn it. It is also good to remember that such practices should not just be focused inwards, but also outwards – blessing others, solidarity with the marginalised, serving acts etc. are just as appropriate as prayer, thanksgiving and reflection. For me this was worked out through spending a lot more time with my son, intentionally ignoring the iPhone to make more space to actively listen to my wife, and trading time with Twitter on the train for daily devotions.
After the first week, Lent felt like a long time. I longed for Easter and the celebration of the resurrection. But as I continued to walk through the devotions, reflecting on my own life in the light of the gospel, I found liberty in moving further into the gracious space that God has for me to learn to touch on my own weakness as I minister, and become more like Jesus in my focus. Lent might end with Easter Sunday, but Christ is risen; and he graciously invites you to step further into discovering his transforming plan for your life every day. Why wait?