Let’s have a little discussion about Lent, shall we?
I struggled with writing this post because I am not a theologian. I’m not a Bible scholar. So take this for what it is: a Protestant stay-at-home mom’s thoughts of how to observe Lent in a simple, uncomplicated way.
I remember observing Lent many moons ago as a teenager at a tiny Wesleyan church in northern Indiana. My BFF and I would brainstorm something to fast from for the forty days of Lent (usually pop), and we’d whine for forty days about HOW AWFUL IT WAS to have to live without that guilty pleasure, AND HOW WERE WE EVER GOING TO MAKE IT TO EASTER?! Oh, the trauma. 😉
Then on Easter Sunday, we’d make a huge show out of hugging then gulping those two liter bottles of Dr. Pepper. We felt so good that we made it through all forty days without sneaking (more than once or twice, at least).
But really, what did it all mean? What was the point of giving up pop for Lent?
We did it because we were encouraged to observe Lent by the leaders of our church, but I don’t think we really got it.
Simply put, Lent prepares our hearts for Easter, just like Advent prepares our hearts for Christmas.
Lent is a season meant to slow us down. A season for reflection and examination of our hearts.
Lent is a time to uncover those hidden idols and distractions that have seeped in and crowded Jesus out.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we can identify the things – behaviors, attitudes, SINS – that are hindering our relationship with Him.
The forty days of Lent can be a precious time to experience true heart transformation and a deeper, more intimate faith in Christ.
Those Lenten fasts of my teenage years were all about the outward appearance of denial. They had little to do heart transformation, of deepening my walk with my Savior.
A Simple Lent
Many years have passed since those first Lenten fasts of my youth, but as I’ve aged Lent has become a really special, powerful time for me.
I don’t feel led to observe Lent every year, but this year I feel like I need to, though I’m not yet sure what that’s going to look like. I’m praying He doesn’t lead me to give up coffee for 40 days. (I’m KIDDING. Kind of.)
A quick search on Pinterest reveals no shortage of suggestions of ways to observe Lent. Family Lenten activities. Lenten tables and decorations for your entry way. Lent paper chains.
Ummmm. Listen. I am not a person who can pull together a beautifully coordinated Lenten season for my household. I wish I were that person, but I’m not. I need simple. Meaningful. God-focused. A no-frills Lent.
I can work myself into a frenzy in an attempt to observe Lent, which in turn takes it from a season of slow to a season of adding more to my to do list. And then, before I know it, the meaning behind it is completely gone and I’m spinning.
So here are my thoughts on the basics of Lent.
Lent: The Basics
So, what do we need to know about Lent?
Traditionally, we can observe Lent through three disciplines: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Discipline of Prayer
In the past six months, God has turned my prayer life upside down. I’m pretty passionate about the discipline of prayer right now. But it hasn’t always been like that.
Here are some ways you can grow your prayer life:
- Prayer journal – write out your prayers
- Prayer bullet journal – list your prayer requests, praises, confessions
- Praying out loud
- Valley of Vision – a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions (which sounds crazy but they’re SO GOOD)
- Different postures of prayer – kneel, bow, stand
- Praying the Lord’s Prayer
- Examen prayer – prayerful reflection of the joyful (consolation) and painful moments (desolation) of your week. (More on this coming soon – examen prayers have become a staple in my prayer life. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.)
Discipline of Fasting
So giving up pop in my teenage years was a form of fasting, even though I was missing the main point back then. In recent years, fasting has become a really powerful way of deepening my faith.
In past Lenten seasons, I’ve mostly only focused on fasting, because it’s a great reminder that we do not live on food, but on the Bread of Life.
I went through a sugar fast last year and learned that God can do powerful things through fasting – if the focus is on Him.
When we fast, we recognize our weaknesses and rely completely on His strength.
If you choose to fast, pray and ask God to reveal any idols in your life. He will show you the things that are keeping you from developing deeper intimacy with Him.
Maybe He’ll lead you to fast from a food or type of eating, like sugar or pop or COFFEE. Ahem.
Or maybe He’ll lead you to fast from certain attitudes or distractions, such as busyness, careless spending, or wasting time watching tv or browsing online (Facebook???).
Whatever He lays on your heart, listen. Dare to face it and use the forty days of Lent to grow closer to the Lord.
Discipline of Almsgiving
Traditionally, almsgiving was the practice of giving to the poor. In today’s Christian lingo, we often call it serving others.
Our service toward others an outward expression of the inner work Christ is doing in us through prayer and fasting.
Last year we donated money to help a local homeless shelter provide meals to people on Easter Sunday. Maybe there are volunteer opportunities at ministries or missions you feel led to support. Maybe you and your kids can bake cookies for someone going through a rough time. Maybe you can invite someone lonely over for a meal.
This isn’t about piling more on to our plates – it’s about being aware of opportunities to serve and love on others in the midst of our everyday lives. (If this is an area you’d like to grow in, I HIGHLY recommend Falling Free and Ministry in Ordinary Places, both written by Shannan Martin.)
What I’m trying to say is…
However you feel God leading you to observe Lent, it’s ok to keep it simple.
Do you have to observe all three disciplines? NOPE.
Do you have to observe ANY of these disciplines? NOPE.
In this season meant for slowing down and reflecting, we often heap on lots of extra things to do in observance of Lent. Lent is a time to connect deeply with God and hear what He has to say to us.
Lent isn’t about DOING. It’s about BEING. Being honest with ourselves and the things we’ve put before God. Being open to what He wants to do in our hearts. Being in awe of what Christ did for US on the cross.
I highly recommend this post if you’re looking for more information about Lent. https://equippinggodlywomen.com/faith/what-should-i-give-up-for-lent/