I am a fan of the seasons of the church.
Advent is so rich: the music, the colors, the excitement that precedes any birth is infinitely magnified across the world as we celebrate The Birth. That joy, for me, never seems stale.
Epiphany is so fun: we stand together and worship, rejoicing in the revelation of our Savior. Like the wise men of old, the thrill of finding Jesus cannot be contained.
Easter is, well Easter: powerful, amazing, miraculous. Easter Services nearly always overwhelm me with emotion. Just hearing “up from the grave He arose!!!” (Even now, in my head) fills me, just fills me, to where I have trouble catching my breath, and no way I can hold back the tears.
Pentecost is motivating: a call to action, a time when we, as believers are told to go out, share this amazing God with those around you. I see pentecost as a reminder not to be selfish and stingy with my faith.
And then there is Lent.
I love Lent.
Lent is life changing
In my limited theological knowledge, and perhaps directly related to my pietistic upbringing, I believe that Lent should not be easy.
I give up something each year, something intentionally difficult. I don’t do this because I want others to think I am more in touch with God. I don’t do this because it is cool. I don’t do this out of tradition, for in reality, I didn’t grow up “giving up” for Lent.
I do this because I want to be reminded. I want to feel the hunger pain, the tug, the discomfort. I spend my life running ahead, charging to the next thing. Heedless. Just as my crazy dog hits the end of her lead at a dead run, only to be stopped. Just as my kids occasionally need me to yank their arm before they walk into someone or something. I, too, must be reined in. I need these restraints.
Each time I reach for the coffee, diet coke, candy, the remote control, the second helping, the glass of wine, the mirror: whatever it is that was distracting me prior to the Lenten season, each time I am forced to think. Sometimes those thoughts are pathetic, self centered, whiny. Sometimes I am a little mad about this whole silly giving up tradition. At least that is the way Lent (and the beginning of my “fast”) start off. But as those days wear on, as I move through my selfish stage, then into my smug stage (about day 4-5 when I think I have got this giving up thing all mastered) and finally I arrive at sacrifice. This is when it gets hard, I am worn down, and I WANT IT (whatever it may be) and I can find a million reasons to just give up on giving up. This is when, instead of going about, thoughtlessly, with the everyday I am forced to think. And I do. I think about Christ’s sacrifice. And how small mine is, there is no comparison. This may happen hundreds of times through the season. And every moment, no matter how fleeting, gives me pause. A moment to reflect on my unworthiness, and on God’s grace.
In the world of health and fitness, fasting can be used as a tool to detoxify, to kick start weight loss, to cleanse. Kind of a reset button for the body. Lent is a bit like that for me and my faith. My physical fast is just a reminder. Each time I want, and each time I deny that want, gives me a chance to let go of the hurts, or fears, or doubts, or bitterness that keeps me from fully living in God’s grace. Bit by bit, wounds are healed, strength comes back, peace descends. And I am whole. Restored, in body, in mind, in my faith.
So I enter Lent willingly and with a bit of trepidation, the next weeks will be hard, and wonderful.