I have never participated in Lent. Actually, I don’t think I even knew what it was until my mid-20’s. It probably took another five years or so until I decided I wasn’t against it, but even then I remained deeply skeptical. I just didn’t understand it. Most of the churches I have participated in weren’t big into the liturgical calendar— so the whole thing sounded foreign.
After all why do you have to give up stuff? I can understand sinful stuff- you know porn, fighting, drugs (at least the ones I don’t use – by which I refer to caffeine), etc… but why would I give up chocolate or stop using cream and sugar in my coffee? And only for 40 days? God loves me. He’s not going to love me more if I stop watching TV for a month. His love is perfect, there is nothing I can do that would make him love me more. It just kind of seemed like an exercise in being miserable for Jesus. Why would I want to do that if I don’t have to?
I don’t know what changed my mind about Lent. There is not an argument that I can point to and say, “Aha, I’m convinced!” It’s been more of a gradual acceptance it.
I remember reading something by A. W. Tozer a decade or so ago that sums up my feeling about Lent (though I have a feeling Tozer would not be hot on it). He said, “Anything that does not bring me closer to God is something that is not worth doing” (Criss’s faulty memory paraphrase). Now that sort of hyperbolic speaking can be taken to all sorts of extremes, but it does make me aware of how much of my life is spent in distraction from the things that matter most.
Lent is a time of sacrifice. It’s a time of fasting and gratitude. It doesn’t make God love me more or Christ’s work more redemptive. His love is unfailing. So ultimately the Lent fast is more about me.
I’ve been thinking about and discussing Lent with my wife since the Advent season. This year I’m participating—not to make God love me more, not to be more holy, not to practice self-control, but as another form and expression of my love and gratitude to God for the sacrifice of his Son. It is an acknowledgement that so much of me is about me– that much of my time is spent un-redemptively, working and participating in rhythms that have nothing to do with him.
It’s kind of like flowers on Valentine’s Day—the flowers don’t make my wife love me more. The relationship is there with or without flowers. But having to remember to go out and get them reminds me of how much I love her, of how important she is to me, how much she sacrifices and gives to me. I hope she likes the flowers, but ultimately they don’t mean much in and of themselves.
So I guess Lent are like my roses to God.
My pastor preached on Lent last weekend and wrote about it on his blog this morning if you are interested: http://eugenecho.wordpress.com
Here are some ideas for “Hardcore Lent” if chocolate isn’t cutting it this year: http://www.outofur.com/archives/2011/03/dave_gibbons_ha.html#comments?sms_ss=twitter&at_xt=4d70fcb7ec433814,0