Another Way of Looking at Lent — by Jason C. Stanley
So many people during the Christian season of Lent give up something. It is what we are supposed to do, right? In preparation for celebrating Easter, we give up Starbucks or chocolate, or fast-food, and the list goes on. And so we ask each other, “What have you given up?” Almost like it’s the newest fad – it is “in” to not eat chocolate for 40 days. Or it is “in” to not drink caffeine for 40 days and be a beast of a person because you did not get your morning caffeine. And the count down to Easter begins when you can have caffeine or chocolate again.
The tradition of fasting during Lent is an ancient tradition. But is our modern-day fasting in the sense of the ancient practice? The spiritual practice of fasting typically involved not eating while the sun was up (in some cultures, there is a ritual of a feast in the evenings). In place of worrying about our physical needs, we focus on our spiritual needs. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see people who have given up Starbucks or chocolate for Lent, I see that their lamenting is focused on Starbucks or chocolate. That leaves me wondering, is this what Lent is about?
I wonder, “What would the spiritual life and a relationship with Christ would look like if instead of giving up something, we added something?” There are lots of ways in which we express our faith and our relationship with Christ. John Wesley talked a lot about works of piety and works of mercy. Works of piety include worship, prayer, Bible study, daily devotions, and participation in the sacraments. Works of mercy include doing good, helping a neighbor, and caring for the poor.
Perhaps, we can start Lent by considering ways we can add a spiritual practice or discipline to our lives. A practice or discipline that is different from our norm. Lent is a powerful time of encountering the Christ who lived, died, and rose again for us. Lent forces us to see the wounds, the bruises, and the scars that lead us to Easter.
And it is uncomfortable.
Lent is about being uncomfortable. When we step out of our comfort zones, through our piety and mercy, we encounter the Christ of Easter. When we take that risk to step out of our normal routine, we open ourselves to powerful encounters with Christ that transform us.
Consider works of piety you might add to your spiritual life. If you have never attended the Lenten services at your local church, consider participating in the Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services. If your church has a Lenten Bible study or small groups, consider joining one as a way to grow in your discipleship. If you have been slacking in your prayer life, consider finding a friend with whom you can be accountable with in your prayer life. If your church offers a Lenten devotional in addition to the Upper Rooms, use them both! Or maybe you just need more quiet time in your life. Carve that time out and maximize your time with God.
Consider works of mercy you might add. What areas of need are there in your community? What areas make you uncomfortable? Are there areas of service within your congregation that you have never served before? Maybe it is volunteering to be a greeter or usher. Maybe it is volunteering to lead children’s church or help out with youth group. Maybe it is volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
Focusing on our spiritual lives and our relationship with Jesus Christ provides us with time to consider how we are living our lives. Do our actions and words reflect our faith? Are we striving towards perfection? Are our hearts warmed and our hands dirty?
Why not consider what you can take on for Lent this year.
Jason C. Stanley is an Ordained Deacon and Associate Pastor of Youth and Education at Peakland United Methodist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Megan and Jason now live and work in Lynchburg, Virginia with their rescue greyhound, Roux. For more, check out his web site: JasonCStanley.com