Today is Ash Wednesday… the day that many observe the Lent season. The following I mostly posted back in 2014 Observing Lent along with some updated thoughts relevant to this year.
I was not raised in a family that participated in Lent. I always thought that Lent was a Catholic ritual. In high school I asked several friends why they came to school with ash on their foreheads and they could never give me a good reason for why they “observe” Lent. They seemed to be doing it because they were told to do it or because that is what they have always done. I never actually participated in an Ash Wednesday service until 2010 when we were living in Japan. When the pastor of our church did the service, I found that I really liked the concept behind Lent.
Got Questions?org gives this definition of Lent:
“Lent is a period of fasting and repentance traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations in preparation for Easter. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 40 days. During this time, participants eat sparingly or simply give up a particular food or habit. Ash Wednesday and Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves to repent of their sins in a manner similar to how people in the Old Testament repented in sackcloth, ashes, and fasting (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21).”
I have found online that there is great controversy between Christians who think it is okay or not okay to observe Lent. It is important to note that Lent or any other Christian tradition or act of faith is NOT required in order to receive God’s gift of salvation and it will not win God’s blessing or make us more holy. It is not commanded in scripture to celebrate Christmas or Easter but we do so because it brings us joy to celebrate the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. In the same way, Lent can be a focused time of reflection. While participating in Lent or other traditions, some people may have wrong motives or they will be doing it because that is what they have always done. For me, it is a time of reflection and a time to remove something from my life that is hindering a closer relationship with God and/or to add something to my life that I should have been doing already.
I think that this graphic gives a good representation of how I choose to observe Lent (I can no longer find the original link I had to the graphic):
This, of course, is something we should keep in mind all year and not just in the weeks leading up to Easter. I think that observing Lent is a humbling way to focus our thoughts and actions. We also need to keep in mind that while doing any type of fasting/abstaining/self-denial that it should be personal between you and God. While there is nothing wrong with telling others that you are observing Lent, it should not be used as a way to bring attention and glory to ourselves. Instead, we should be humble and desire to bring glory to the Father.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18 NIV
Some years, I do not feel lead to participate in Lent and do not give it a second thought once I decide not to participate. Other years, like this year, I have a strong desire to participate which leads to prayer as to what I should eliminate from and/or add to my daily life.
This year, after much prayer, I presented the idea of participating in Lent to my girls ages 10 & 8. I explained the basics of Lent to them and when I told them what I was giving up they were in shock. I told them that they did not have to give up the same thing that I was but that they should choose something that would be difficult for them so that they can use the time they desire to pray. Even more important than giving something up, I plan to use this season to do a family devotional with the girls.
Lately, the girls and I have been having daily struggles of frustration of completing chores, attitudes (mine included), getting out the door on time for school or church, as well as other things. My oldest and I battle it out with yelling matches that unfortunately remind me of how much anger is a stronghold in my life. With my husband overseas and a newborn in the home, I need to find a way to bring peace between me and the girls. So, along with implementing consistent chore charts and behavior plans, we will be doing a daily devotional during Lent.
The church that we attend does not do an Ash Wednesday service, so we will not have ashes on our foreheads today. However, my girls and I will still begin our reflection journey together. I am praying for peace, reconciliation, obedience, and respect to be present in our home. I have a bad habit of starting things and not finishing them, so if you think of me or this article sometime over the next couple of months, please consider taking the time to say a prayer for us!