Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Brief History

Lent is one of the oldest Christian traditions to remember Christ's 40 days in the desert and to prepare for the Easter celebration.  It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends with an Easter Day feast. To quote

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him.

In particular, Lent focuses on fasting, prayer, charity and scripture reading.  Today only the very orthodox keep strict dietary and spiritual rules.  For many people, Lent is either ignored or a time to try a temporary diet from things like chocolate or sweets.

My Position

I was not aware of Lent until I went to college.  However, since then, I have been one to use the Lent time-frame to diet or give up something (typically chocolate or sweets).  This year is no different except that I enter Lent with a slightly different purpose.  I feel like we live in a world and time period that we rarely restrain our physical or emotional indulgences.  Of course we wouldn't do the REALLY bad things - like eat the whole plate of brownies, alone, in one sitting.  But, very often our lifestyle is: if I want something, I give it to myself.  If I want to relax, then I plug in a movie. If I have a sweet tooth, I satisfy it.  If I'm tired, I just sleep in a little longer.  I have to ask myself... how often do I purposely chose to take the less desirable path and deny myself something?  No, there is no spiritual merit in self-denial for it's own sake.  We have been clearly warned in Colossians:

[these activities have] the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

So please be clear that I do not think denial increases my spirituality, however, I see that Jesus himself lived a lifestyle of self-denial.  How often does scriptures show that Jesus would spend all day with people and then be up in the wee hours of the morning to be with God?  Or how about the times when he would deny himself sustenance because he lived by the truth that "Man does not live by bread alone"?  I believe that when we ignore or reject taking periods of time to restrict ourselves from our bodily "needs", we miss out on opportunities to see, first of all, how tightly we hold to these activities, like eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves, etc...  Secondly, we don't get to experience how God can meet our needs when we are weak.  

My Practice

There are many ways to keep Lent that are individual for each person.  I find that when an activity starts to take too strong a hold in my life, it is good for me to give it up temporarily. Being either pregnant or nursing for the past two years+, I have not been able to fast from entire meals as I might normally like, but I have removed all sweets from my diet, or... (this one is a challenge) I have cut off the computer for a week because I see it consumes too much time.  My husband and I have stopped watching a certain show because we were too consumed with thinking about it all day and wondering what would happen next.  

In reverse, there might be something that I need to add to my routine.  For some it might be getting up consistantly for a quiet time, exercising, taking time to reach out to other people. All these things, done in an attitude of honoring God and desiring our bodies to be "living sacrifices" ARE beneficial on a spiritual level.  

Lent somewhat snuck up on me this year, so I didn't have time to go into it with much thoughtful preparation.  Since I have found myself becoming more and more indulgent with sweets/snacks/desserts since arriving in England, I've decided this might be the best way to go.  It is neither good for me or my baby, nor is it good when I start getting to the point of thinking I NEED something sweet to make me happy or satisfied.  So, I will once again give up sweets for Lent.  I guess we all have our weaknesses.  However, I want to do this, not just as a form of diet or better health.  I want to recognize that these things should not have a hold on my life and I want to be willing to give up whatever might hinder me from loving God wholly.

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