Welcoming Lent

Most of us have rather negative feelings about Lent because it, especially this year, comes around at unexpected times when we are not ready for its presence. Though it seems early this year, I always feel that about Lent. I’ve just gotten over the holidays, back at the busy routines, and longing for a time of ease — and then there it is staring me in the face like a stop sign that you can’t see until you are upon it. Now I have to deal with this thing called Lent.

The first question most of us ask when we approach Lent is, “What am I giving up this year?” That’s an unfortunate approach to Lent which really isn’t about giving up something at all. Lent is a time of turning, which may require that we acknowledge that we have taken some wrong roads, that they are dead ends, and that the time has come to try a new one. Sometimes I do have to give up the road. Lent also is a time for the desert where we give up busyness, distraction, and careless addictions so that we can hear the voice of God amidst the clutter of our lives. Lent is a time of preparation for all that is on the horizon for us, a time of hope and not despair. It is here in Lent that we sense that all is not over, that there is another word for us, and that there will be another day for those who are in despair. As some have said, Lent is not about giving up something. In many cases, it is about adding something real, genuine and good into our lives. This adding may require a letting go, but the perspective is important.

When we think of Lent as giving up something, it often leads us down the road of unhealthy legalism that is an adventure in missing the point. One of my friends gave up Facebook and Twitter for Lent. I admire that, but I’m wondering if that’s really the kind of thing we should give up at Lent. Facebook is generally the source of community and communication in our lives, and within reason, those are the kinds of things I should want to “add” to my life during Lent, not take away. Last year, I gave up white carbs for Lent. It was a disaster. It was difficult to share a meal with anyone in their home, it left me thinking about pasta and bread constantly, and I really missed the experience of those positive things I could have added while I was focused on the fact that I couldn’t have any pasta or pizza for 40 days. I would have gained a lot more by writing a thank you note every day of Lent to a meaningful person in my life rather than giving up something trivial like white carbs that really added nothing but hunger and distraction to my life.

Lent is about transformation, not starvation. So what are you “adding” to your life during Lent? It will require that you give up something in order to gain something, but you will be letting go of something in order to welcome a new life.

For suggestions for how to “spend” your Lent, I like this calendar from Mars Hill Church.

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