Every Spring we ate codfish pie on Fridays, for 6 weeks. The crust was thick and pale from the flour dusting, and seasoned codfish was layered over mashed potatoes, creating a heavy and filling meal. I didn’t care for it much, but this is what we did. We were good Catholics and we embraced tradition. Since then, I’ve become much more appreciative of the season that left us without meat on Fridays: Lent. Still, each year, I observe the 40 or so days before celebrating Easter. Now I see those days as an opportunity, and I seize it.
This year Ash Wednesday is March 1st. Many people will celebrate Lent without going to a mass or service and receiving the ashes on their foreheads. I’m in this group. For some, the point of Lent is solemnity. It’s a time to consider their spiritual condition. It’s a time to repent and remember the cost Jesus paid for us. It’s a time to grab the bull by the horn and deal with any take over of fleshly habits. It’s also a time of renewal, looking ahead to the celebration of Easter, when all things are new.
Lent can be putting aside a significant season to pour into the spiritual disciplines in an more intense way.
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
I understood many years ago that Lent is an opportunity. Some Christians today align with the messianic Jewish calendar or celebrate Old Testament holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Observing Lent is a similar decision. For me, it’s cultural as well as spiritual. For my grandparents, it was inextricably so. Several liturgical Protestant denominations also observe Lent. I see it as something very good and have walked away with it, not as a religious obligation, but as a spiritual framework that stretches and challenges me.
This was my first Lent observed by my free will, my first wrestling with the flesh, learning to say “no” to every whim.
Over the years, I have learned to say “no” to many whims, but none so well as when I’ve wrestled them through the lenten season. At other times of year, I’ve done 21 day Daniel Fasts consisting of vegetables and whole grains, and other various fasts over time. My lenten fasts have been the most productive and spiritually profound.
It was during Lent one year that I was surprisingly and miraculously healed of severe back problems. I don’t remember what I “gave up” that year, but I had added late night declarations to my 6 weeks regimen. Each night I would huddle in bed and pray Scripture and prayers out loud until I was too tired to continue. I did this most nights. Toward the end of this predetermined time, close to Easter, I felt burning in my back, twice. My back was healed! It was unexpected. Imagine if I had never decided to dedicate that Lenten season to prayer and Scripture! I rejoice every time I think of that.
My lenten fasts have been the most productive and spiritually profound.
“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”
Setting those 6 weeks aside results in a victoriously celebratory Easter Day, when your fast is broken and you reap the harvest of increased time with God.
If you think that doing something like giving up TV or Netflix for Lent is not a big deal, try it. You’ll see how much your flesh likes to do what it likes to do. The word lenten is derived from the Old English word long. This probably is related to the lengthening of the days during the Spring. During Lent, the days literally lengthen and observing Lent uses this time maximally.
If you rearrange your time and priorities as the seasons change, you will see that you have time to read that book that you got a while ago that addresses your recent issues or spiritual curiosities. You will find that you have time for a kind phone call to someone who may need it. And you will have time to pray for things and people you never seem to get around to praying for. If your heart desires less of routine and more of God, seize Lent this year. You will be blessed.