Forty Days-A Baptist’s View on Lent
It's almost 10% of the days in the year, so not particularly an insignificant amount although it's a length of time that can go by quickly. Time has a weird way of being relative though, forty days during summer break as a child seemed to go by with certain expediency. Forty days laying in a hospital bed may seem like an eternity. Today I write about the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Resurrection Sunday, commonly referred to as Lent.
Now as a protestant and more specifically a baptist I'm not sure that I ever gave lent much consideration. I knew my Catholic friends came to school with a cross on their forehead and only ate fish on Friday but outside of that I can honestly say I didn't have a great working understanding of why they did that. I think that most people who have grown up protestant would probably have the same thoughts. It just wasn't something that we really observed. I'm here to say though that we all should observe these forty days, regardless of background, all Christians can benefit from acknowledging it each year.
The last few years our church has observed more of the traditional days on the Christian calendar from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday and had services around them. They may not have the same liturgical form that are traditionally done but they have fit us very well. I am very thankful for this as there is so much to be gained. Most people associate lent with giving something up or abstaining and denying self. While that's true, its much deeper than that, we aren't giving up just for the sake of piety. We are removing something from our life that is in the way of our relationship with God. See, it's not about giving up but rather what we gain by doing so.
Not having grown up attending Ash Wednesday services I think I see a beauty in them that would be easy to miss if I had grown accustomed to them as a child. We sometimes get in routines that blind us to what we are actually doing in worship. Not knowing much about it I decided to research some for myself. Ashes in ancient times were used to express grief and also show sorrow for sins and faults. They also serve as a symbol of our own mortality, traditionally the phrase "Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris." "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return." (Taken from Gen 3:19) is uttered as a cross is drawn on your forehead.
Ash Wednesday is a day to acknowledge our sins and failings while also contemplating our own mortality. I think that each lent can be so different because of what you are experiencing in life at that time. This year took on a different feeling with my grandmother passing and the first anniversary of my fathers passing in the same week as Ash Wednesday. From dust you have come and to dust you will return have a uncomfortable familiarity when the wounds of loss are fresh on your heart. I don't want to assume that anyone knows what the forty days represent, it's a journey in commemoration of Jesus fasting forty days in the wilderness and the temptations and tests he faced. I can't imagine fasting for forty days, even if we are talking a dawn to dusk fast. I have trouble making it one day and admittedly get hangry (hungry +angry) and would have to be in continuous prayer to make it work ;-). The enemy went to tempt Jesus when he thought he was at his weakest, we all make bad decisions when we are hungry. Jesus overcame this by relying not on his own will or strength but in his knowledge of God's word. I think that's an important takeaway, that even Jesus as a man had to rely on His Father's scripture to overcome physical temptation.
Life is short, the older we get the quicker it seems to go by. This past year has taught me that there is no certainty in life, that things can change in an instant. As I sit and write this on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday I still haven't declared anything to give up. Everything has seemed so inconsequential with everything we've had going on lately. So right now I'm going to reflect and pray for guidance. The beauty of it is I don't have to wait for lent to spend forty days trying to become closer to God. We often get caught up in the business of life, so maybe this year will just be about what I'm going to do daily. I will be intentional with prayer and meditate daily, I'll have to give up whatever was getting in the way that day.
During lent we often look towards a vice, or something that we feel is a sacrifice to give up. I think that instead of looking for something to give up we should ask the question; "What can I remove from my life that will bring me closer to Christ?" Regardless of your denomination or background, all Christians can benefit from observation of the Lenten season. It's not about the loss of something as much as what we can gain by giving it up.