Let me be honest with you. Up until around three years ago, I had no idea what Lent was. I don’t mean that I was unaware of rules or criteria or whatever. I just didn’t know it existed. I didn’t grow up in the Catholic tradition so my knowledge of all things Catholicism consisted of Mardi Gras parades, preachers who didn’t own ties, and Sister Act.
Unfortunately, Sister Act 2 as well.
In an attempt to find a definition of Lent that accurately described my experience with it, I stumbled upon this at Urban Dictionary:
“That 40 day long period where Christians attempt to emulate Christ-like suffering and minimalism through only the lamest and most half-hearted undertakings.”
If you’re somewhat familiar with Urban Dictionary, you realize that sentence had to be edited. I do not recommend their content unless you’re one of those people who enjoys being highly offended and moderately appalled. For example, they have seven different definitions for ‘apple juice’. I only know of one. And if you’re wondering, out of the seven, none of them mean what you think they mean. It’s a sad place.
What’s sadder is that they nailed the meaning of Lent for a lot of Christians. The reason I know this is because I witnessed it and I lived it. Around this time about three years ago, our church was in the middle of a period of fasting. It wasn’t for Lent but rather a ‘searching for God’s will’ type of thing. We were asked to think diligently about what we would fast from so I did, or at least I thought I did. I knew that Jesus fasted from food so I thought I would be a big baller shot caller and fast from food as well. Not all food, of course, but just for one meal a day. I don’t remember the specifics but I can tell you I couldn’t make it past a week. I had failed miserably. And the worst part? I felt really guilty about it. Maybe I should have tried giving up something easier like candy or smokeless tobacco. Maybe then I could have made it the whole 40 days.
I could have fasted from bear wrestling. That would have been easy, too.
But then it hit me. This was exactly how it feels to be not Christian. Here, let me explain…
#2: It’s not required of us
I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t exactly try my hardest during our fast. So part of my problem was I probably didn’t take it seriously enough. But what would I have gained if I did complete all 40 days? A presumed pat on the back from God? Satisfaction knowing that I’m self-disciplined? Both those things sound great, but are they the end result I want? No, the resolution I was looking for is a closer communication with God. Can sacrificing cupcakes get me there? Unfortunately, no. If it was that simple everyone would do it. Can the sacrifice of Jesus get me there? Fortunately, yes. He is how we hear from God, not our doing. But if you’re just adamant that you have to do something for God, well, here ya go:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6.8
#1: Colossians 2.20-23
20 “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
I don’t do Lent because it doesn’t work for me. It’s not in the Bible and it feels too contrived. If I’m going to prepare for Easter, I’ll do it by praying and reading the Bible, not sacrifice.