It’s hard to believe, but the calendar confirms that it is time for us to prepare again for the season of Lent. The word “lent” simply means “lengthen,” referring to the lengthening of daylight in spring. For Christians, though, the season is one of spiritual reflection and preparation.
Originally the season was intended for those preparing to be baptized on Easter morning. Lent became a time of intentional prayer and formation as persons moved closer to the baptismal waters. Along the way, the church realized that the disciplines of Lent would be beneficial not only to those preparing for baptism, but also for faithful Christians who could use the time to draw closer to God.
We often associate Lent with a time of giving up, sacrificing, certain foods or drinks. One large United Methodist church in Charlotte, NC has begun the practice of inviting all members to observe what they call an “alcohol-free Lent.” Members pledge to take the money they would normally spend on alcoholic beverages during the season and give those funds to a mission project in the community. Of course, a real test for our community would be to observe such a practice during football tailgate season! Imagine what an impact we might have if we took the dollars spent on adult beverages during one season and used those funds for missions in the name of Christ!
Lots of folk will give up chocolate, coffee, soda and the like. But what if Lent became a time for us not simply to give up some of our favorite things but also a time to take on new habits and practices that might lead us closer to God and one another? What if, during these days of spiritual reflection, we committed ourselves to take on new practices such as:
- Getting up thirty minutes earlier for a time of meditation and prayer;
- Volunteering at a local agency that helps persons in need of emergency assistance, medical care, home repair, etc.;
- Making a commitment to cut down on waste in your home through recycling and other practices that honor God’s creation;
- Committing to visit someone who is homebound, sharing a meal and a conversation with them;
- Making a priority to give of your financial resources to the ministries of the church through tithing or an increase in your discipline of giving;
- Advocating for the rights of all people, paying attention especially to the needs of the most vulnerable in our society and speaking out on their behalf.
I invite you, dear friends, to observe a holy Lent. Go ahead; give up something and be reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus. But consider taking on something as well. Let us all use these days to open ourselves up to the ways God might shape us in this season to become more completely the people God intends us to be.