Lent: You’ve Probably Been Doing it All Wrong

Please don't do this during Lent.

Please don’t do this during Lent.

Ah, Lent. Those 40 days stuck in-between Mardi Gras and one of those Sundays lots of people go to church. It can be a confusing time.

“Why are people walking around with dirty foreheads?”
“How do I figure out what I’m supposed to give up?”

and my personal favorite

“Why is it so depressing?”

It seems that for many, Lent often serves as a reminder of depressing times and self-serving attempts to fast. And sometimes, these things are more true than I would like them to be. So let’s get right to it. Here’s what Lent isn’t:

  • Lent isn’t all about fasting. Eating too much chocolate and hoping these 40 days can help you drop some pounds? Great! Opportunities to be our healthiest selves, mind, body and spirit, are always worthwhile. But that isn’t what Lent is about – you can take this opportunity any time of the year. Fasting certainly has a rich tradition and may even have a place among your spiritual practices, but this isn’t the heart of the season.
  • Lent isn’t a time to focus on how worthless and sinful we are. We all sin. Period. While Lent may ask us to look at our sin, the point isn’t to spend all our time with our sin. We especially aren’t asked to think of ourselves as worthless – quite the opposite! (But I’ll get to that later.)
  • Lent isn’t all about death and suffering. The Lenten journey calls us to walk with Jesus all the way to His crucifixion. Truly walking with someone means that we take time to be with our companion in every aspect of the journey. That part is true. It’s also true that it’s gets pretty rough during the week leading up to Good Friday. Yet, death and suffering are still not the totality of Lent.

So. What then is Lent all about? I’ll let you in on the big secret:

  • Lent is about our humanity. You could read that and immediately think about death (I think that’s where the misconceptions come in), and you’d be partiality correct. Considering our humanity means acknowledging that death is a reality, but it isn’t all about our death. Considering our humanity also means acknowledging that we fall short, but it isn’t all about our mistakes. We remember that our Christian story says that God desired so desperately to be with us, that God literally embodied humanity. That means God took on love, laughter, heartache, and even death. Therefore, there must be something beautiful about our humanity, too. To consider our humanity then, may also be an exercise in discovering our own immeasurable beauty alongside the truth of our mortality.
  • Lent is about simplicity as a means of discovery. When we give up chocolate for Lent, we touch upon simplicity, but it’s through the backdoor and with a ten-foot pole, at best. While we very much could deprive ourselves of something to harden our resolve or to suffer, what if our fasting was about getting in touch with simplicity? Maybe fasting means putting aside things that rob us of our humanity or freeing ourselves from society’s mandate to overwork. Whenever we reach for simplicity, we are handed an opportunity to discover what is true about ourselves as beloved children of God.
  • Lent is about relationship. When we talk about walking with Christ, we’re really talking about relationship. No, not the relationships on “The Bachelor,” but rather real and lasting relationships. Those relationships only come through walking and journeying with one another. They come through spending time laughing an evening away and crying when hearts are broken. You can’t skip the crying to get to the laughing. That’s not a relationship. Consider Lent our yearly reminder that true relationship, whether with Jesus or our closest friend, means staying present through whatever life offers. We all know that life is hard and we are not perfect. Lent reminds us that suffering is real, and just as real as laughter, but we get through the suffering because we have companions on the journey who are committed to walking together.

Humanity. Simplicity. Relationship. Why not start now?

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