Lent is one of my favorite times of the year. It is a powerful time of reflection, repentance, and change. During Lent we focus on the life, death, and finally the glorious resurrection of Jesus. When we intently think and pray on those things, we cannot stay the same. Lent calls us to strive to love God and our neighbor more. Lent calls us to mourn and rejoice in the crucifiction and resurrection. Lent calls us to be honest about our deepest sins. If we truly celebrate Lent, then on Easter day we will find ourselves resurrected with Jesus, and given the opportunity to start anew.
Typically during Lent we give something up or take something on. I know that I am often guilty of giving something up for shallow reasons. Or because I just felt that I had to. I'll admit that my Lenten practices have often been selfish, and had very little to do with strengthening me as a Christian.
One Lent, I gave up meat under the guise that I wanted to explore my commitment to protecting all of God's creation. This was partially true. I also thought that I could lose some weight, and I think that vegetarians are cool (that's the hipster in me). Another Lent I gave up excessive spending. I genuinely wanted to be less wasteful with my money. But Lent requires that you follow up with your sacrifice. I'm pretty sure that instead of donating all the money I saved that I bought a ridiculously expensive bike that I've ridden less than 50 times. I've had it for 4 years.
So, let me encourage you to think and pray long and hard before you make your Lenten decision. Genuinely reflect on what needs to change in order for you to be a more faithful servant of God and neighbor. And if you need some help, here are a couple of videos to help you think about the amazing things that you can do with your Lenten sacrifice.
These both come from Living Water International which I've mentioned before on this site. My friend Danielle will be going on a trip with them during the Lenten season, and I'm sure if you have more questions about that particular organization she'll be happy to answer them for you! But if that's not your thing, then think about other ways that you can give to others during Lent. Yes it's a time of reflection and change for you, but it's also a time for you to live as Jesus lived and radically serve others. So, here are the videos that (hopefully) will soften your heart to the purpose of Lent:
Lent: Prepare the Way from Living Water International on Vimeo.
Don't fast. from Living Water International on Vimeo.
And here's a great article I read that might help you today on this beautiful Ash Wednesday:
Smudges on the Soul: A Meditation for Ash Wednesday
by Safiyah Fosua
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. (Joel 2:12-13, NRSV)
I would rather wear the smudge on my forehead than to admit its residence upon my soul. I prefer a crude cross above my eyes to questions about runny mascara and smudged liner. In a place where self-confidence is rewarded and any sign of weakness or emotional predisposition is held suspect, it is difficult to consider actually following the advice of the prophet to return to the Lord with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. It is, however, acceptable — maybe even fashionable to appear in public with a dirty forehead as a sign that I have religion. It is amazing how the symbols of piety, sackcloth and ashes, have been transformed into mask that hides me from myself and circumvents the intent of Ash Wednesday.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, the prophet said. Not the trumpet that signals advance to war, or the trumpet that celebrates victory, but the one that warns trembling penitents that the day of the Lord is coming. Blow the trumpet that warns a penitent like me to wear the smudge of ashes long after her face has been washed and to admit the smudge on the one place that matters to God, her heart.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, the prophet said, and sanctify a fast (Joel 2:15). Hear the sounds of grumbling need in a world where few are filled — and where we are overfilled. Today I am called to push away from the voracious consumption of everything in my path, for at least a little while, in hopes that I might realize something about the equitable distribution of the world's resources before the fast is over.
Rend your hearts and not your garments, the prophet said (Joel 2:13). The gift of the day is personal reflection, a season of confession, and change. Start the arduous journey from shadow to substance, from ritual to reality, from façade to faith. Today, choose the harder course. It is easier to buy new clothing than to mend a soul.
Prayer: Lord, as I begin this year's Lenten Journey, turn my attention to the things that matter most to you. Amen.