“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ― Frederick Buechner
Even as our social media feeds fill with exclamations of wonder that it is already March, Lent reminds us of a slower cadence. As the cycle of holidays slaps us like waves pounding the shore, Lent extends the chance at preparation. When our spirits cry out for a deeper communion with God in the midst of a frantic schedule, Lent offers scattered prompts throughout our days to draw us near to God.
Marked by Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Lent bridges the 40 intervening days (Sundays don’t count) evocative of the forty days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. For those denominations with a strong liturgical foundation, it is a season set apart to prepare for the coming of Easter through fasting, prayer and increased attention to the word of God. For all of us, it is an invitation to intentionally shift our focus back to the kingdom and economy of God.
Like a cord with three strands, Lent invites us to a three-pronged observance as we set aside something good for the promise of something greater, add a priority of his heart and press into his voice and presence in our lives.
MaryBeth shares, “For me, fasting during Lent is a chance to consider the amazing mystery of him (Jesus) subjecting himself to human form. The Bible says that he did it for the joy set before him. When you read a medical description of crucifixion, it is mindboggling what he suffered for love. Growing up Catholic influences my current practices. I want to use this season as an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus.”
Chocolate, Meat, the Internet and Regret
Food and technology lead the list of “pleasures” we’re abstaining from to clear the clutter and press closer to Christ. Each opportunity to reach for chocolate, soda or Facebook becomes a prompt to turn our hearts and attention to God. Laying something down and resisting temptation becomes a spiritual discipline as we relentlessly prioritize God over momentary pleasures.
In 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast, Alicia Chole asks, “What might be the fruit of fasting stinginess? What would happen if our churches fasted spectatorship? What might occur if our families fasted accumulation?” She continues, “What might erupt if a new generation fasted escapism? Such fasts could trigger a spiritual revolution.”
Today, what would happen if we fasted comparison or gossip or even regret? Could it be that just the commitment could illuminate the prevalence of each in our hearts and mind?
When the thought (temptation) presented itself, what if we were armed with a verse chosen to direct our attention to God? How would that shift impact every element of our lives long after Lent passes?
Lent is also the opportunity to take on. Rather than exclusively focusing on what to fast, our commitment is to pick up a priority of God.
A concern for the temporary orphans in our community could prompt volunteer hours with 4KIDS of South Florida. A heart for the poor could be expressed in a community-wide food drive or even the decision to stock your car with a handful of Love Bags for the homeless you encounter.
Love Bags are ziplock bags filled with a water bottle, tuna/chicken and crackers, granola bars, socks, hand wipes, applesauce or fruit cup, plastic utensil and a note of encouragement and/or Bible verse.
At the very heart of our Lent observance must be a desire for an increased intimacy with God.
As David proclaimed, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17, NLT).
Whether you open your schedule to a time of worship, Bible study or devotional reading, Lent can launch a practice that can revolutionize your relationship with God. Today, you can commit to exchange your good intentions for a non-negotiable chunk of your calendar as you make and keep a commitment to draw closer to Him.
Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, was a day where thoughts of love, sacrifice and evil wrestled for our attention individually, as the church, and as a community. As we walk out these intervening days, may this Lent prepare us to be transformed by the redemption, restoration and hope of Easter.
Anitra Parmele is a freelance writer in South Florida and regular contributor to the Good News. She can be reached at [email protected].