Growing up in a pretty ‘normal Baptist Church’ (whatever that is), we didn’t talk about Lent. We had an Easter season, where the pastor would preach about the cross in the weeks leading up to Easter, then a big Palm Sunday service where the church was decorated with massive leaves from someone’s garden palm, followed by Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday services. It was the same every year.
However, over the last decade I have been on a journey discovering Lent.
My first real understanding was that you participated in Lent by giving up chocolate—I think so that you could then binge on Easter Eggs on Resurrection Sunday! Then there was other ‘giving up’—social media, television, coffee, some other luxury.
More recently, I’ve been seeing Lent as a time to create space in my over-full calendar.
For me, this takes discipline. I’m very much a spur of the moment, rules are just guidelines, sort of person. Deliberately carving out space in my calendar means stopping some things and including others. Less TV, more walks for example.
I have come to value this space as a season where I can reflect, repent and be renewed.
Lent Creates Space For Reflection
It often feels like my brain is always on! Thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow and re-living what happened yesterday all take a lot of mental energy. Thoughts swirl in my head and I feel the pressure to either process past events or start ticking items off my to-do list.
Lent helps me to live in the present.
It is for me a season of deliberately becoming slow. The ‘giving up’ is about not feeding the incessant noise in my head and instead allowing myself time to just be.
When I do this, I find there are things that bubble to the surface. Feelings I’ve not noticed, quiet whispers that have been drowned out or unhealthy practices I’ve used as coping mechanisms.
As I create space for reflection, I can take an honest account of how my relationship with God is really going. Where am I in step with the Spirit? Where am I out of step?
Lent Creates Space For Repentance
Once I recognise where I’ve become out of step, Lent also gives me space for repentance. Not the quick, ‘I’m sorry God’ sort of repentance. Rather it’s the deep work of self-examination. The original Greek work for repent is metanoia—which means get a whole new way of thinking about God!
I’m invited by God to change my mindset and my world view. To acknowledge again that my way of living doesn’t line up with God’s desire for me.
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)
I remember how selfish I am, how much stuff I collect and how numb I become to the overwhelming pain of the broken world I live in. I’m prompted by God to think about how I protect myself from the mess of the world by consciously (and sub-consciously) withdrawing and trying to control my little patch of the universe.
Lent gives me the space to have an honest look at myself over an extended period of time, and it leads me to experience God’s grace once again.
Lent Creates Space For Renewal
The purpose of all of this is not to wallow in self-pity or shame, but to be renewed. Lent ends with the bit about Easter we all know well—Jesus rises from the dead. The tomb is empty! Christ is victorious over sin and death. The way to a relationship with the Father is open to all.
As Paul says, ‘the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The Reflection and Repentance readies us for Renewal. We can press the reset button and discover a fresh start. I know I find myself energised to re-engage with the world around me. I seem to notice what God is up to a bit more easily. My compassion fatigue lifts and loving my neighbour becomes a priority again.
At the end of the Lent season, the church calendar moves to Ordinary Time. The mundane of life goes on. Family, church, work, community all move forward, and I’m drawn in many directions again. However, I enter the ordinary with a renewed understanding of God and myself. I hope I can live in this renewal all year round, but I know I probably won’t.
That’s ok, there’ll be another annual tune up in my Lent Season next year!