The Lenten season is a time of preparation and repentance in which we make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. The forty day period is symbolic of “repentance seasons” in the Bible (Genesis 7:4, Exodus 24:18, Jonah 3:4, Matthew 4:2). The purpose is not merely an extended meditation on Christ’s suffering and death, but is rather a season to explore and deepen our sense of union with Christ.
The common question among those observing Lent is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Before you answer that, please know that giving up caffeine or TV – while probably good for you – is not the main point.
Giving up a habit or a food or a pleasure is not distinctly Christian. People give up things all the time in the name of self-help, or worse, vanity and vengeance. The point of Lent is not merely sacrifice, but also repentance. Our aim is to reorient life God-ward, and this reorientation has to do with desert and wilderness.
A “wilderness experience” in our language usually means one has been gone for a while and has returned with new insight or perspective … “a new lease on life.” People who have been to second or third world countries often speak of how different their viewpoint is now – how sickened they are by materialism and excess, how heavy their hearts are for the injustices of our world, and how lonely they are in a world of people who don’t see.
Or perhaps someone has been on a multi-day hike in the mountains, and something about the still mountain air jolted their footing in life. In either case, what happens is that people are stripped of their usual comforts, removed from the safety of familiarity, and are forced to see the world from a different vantage point (our lives are so small, which is nearly impossible to see from where we stand).
Something like a wilderness experience is our aim during the Lenten season. How far into the wilderness should we go?
- Far enough that when we reach for our usual comforts, and grasp a fistful of air, we are forced to cling to Christ – His body, His blood.
- Far enough that we begin to see just how upside down our world really is.
- Far enough to see that our “important things” are actually perishable goods, and that our “busy” lives simply lack wisdom.
- Far enough to see the layers of “self” beneath our “righteousness”.
I want a new lease on life, a view into the vast world of God, a deep breath and long look above the tree line of self-absorption. So in Lent we focus on getting away from the life of flesh and into the life of the Spirit, denying our ways and embracing God’s. I intend to give up some things, not in a way that just makes me think more about those things (of how I miss them), but rather in a way that awakens me to how much I miss God and desire his life-giving Spirit. This means, of course, that Lent is not only about giving up things. It is also about adding things, God-things.
- Having given up junk food for a healthy diet, what will you do with the energy you gain?
- Having given up reading magazines, what will you read now?
- Having given up e-mail, to whom will you devote meaningful conversation?
- Having given up lunch, how will you rely on God for the strength of “food from heaven”?
- Having given up TV as a default activity, how will you use that time to cultivate quality family time?
- Having given up isolation, how will you immerse yourself in community?
- Having given up shopping, will you see those who need clothing in our city?
- Having sacrificed whatever form of selfishness you indulge, to whom will you pay attention now?
Lent is upon us. How are you going to reorient your life this season? What will you give up? What will you add? Don’t get trapped by legalism or guilt or ambitious self-righteousness. Just think about the stuff in your life that distracts and clutters and entangles you. What are the habits or things that lie at the heart of your consumer lifestyle? Forsake them for the sake of being consumed by the God-life.