Learning the Rhythm of Lent

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Growing up in the church, I've always loved the anticipation surrounding Easter, but there was one part of the time leading up to Easter that I never quite understood: Lent. Up until the last year or so, my basic understanding of Lent was that it was the 40 days before Easter where you gave up something. My birthday falls during Lent, so I've always been hesitant to give up chocolate or Instagram or anything else that I really enjoy. This Easter, I want to be informed about Lent and how to best honor the Father in this season. Hopefully, what I'm learning inspires you to join me in experiencing Lent in a new way.

Where in Scripture is Lent mentioned?

Nowhere, actually, but that doesn't mean that we should disregard Lent. For centuries, Christians have been observing Lent as a way to prepare their hearts for Easter through focusing on the sacrifice of Jesus.

If it's not in Scripture, then where did Lent come from and what does it mean?

The first recorded mention of Lent was at the Council of Nicea (think: the Nicene Creed) in 325 AD. The council was made of church leaders who came together for the purpose of outlining an orthodox understanding of who Jesus is. Up until this time, Christians observed Holy Week and used the time between Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples) and Easter as a time of preparation for the resurrection celebration. The Council of Nicea was the first recorded time that a 40-day Lenten period of Easter preparation was mentioned.

The Greek word for Lent means "fortieth." Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (a day traditionally marked by fasting and, in some denominations, by putting ashes on the forehead) and lasts for 40 days until Easter to mirror the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4). In English, it comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to lengthen." Lent, then, is also meant to be a time of stretching ourselves spiritually.

What's the point of Lent?

Lent isn't as much about giving up something as it is about giving over something. We practice self-denial of the things that we use as crutches in order to examine ourselves and see our constant need for Jesus (Galatians 5:16-17). It reminds us that the Father is the only one who should hold true power over us. These 40 days are about choosing to die to certain things in order that we can live more fully. It's a re-centering of our life to a rhythm of worship.

How hard is it to observe Lent?

When Jesus was in the desert, he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." In His period of testing and temptation, Jesus had to remind Himself that the Father was all He needed. Lent isn't easy; it's an invitation for us to spend 40 days sorting through the mess of our humanity. You will be uncomfortable. You will want to give up. You will fail in some way, big or small (Romans 7:21-25). It doesn't come naturally for us to live as Jesus lived.

How can I observe Lent?

The most common practice associated with Lent is fasting. In Scripture, we see examples of fasting not only from Jesus, but also from people like Isaiah, Nehemiah, Ezra, Jeremiah, and Esther. Practicing a fast isn't limited to just food. I've known people who have fasted from social media, texting, makeup, and sleeping in. The goal of practicing a fast is to spend the time and energy you would normally spend on whatever you're fasting from focused on the Father. Be creative in what type of fast you choose to practice. In fasting, humility is key (i.e. don't post about it on social media). Fasting is not meant to elevate us, but to humble us (Isaiah 58). You can also observe Lent in other ways by focusing on spiritual disciplines such as Scripture reading or prayer.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
— Matthew 6:16-18 (ESV)

Where do I start?

I recommend taking time to pray and journal as you think about how to observe Lent. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What is my motivation for observing Lent?
  • Why does Easter matter?
  • Is there something in my heart or life that's holding me back from knowing the Father more fully?
  • Is there a spiritual discipline that I have purposely avoided practicing?

Here are a few resources for personal study:

One of the most beautiful aspects of Lent is how personal it is. These 40 days will look different for everyone. It's about following the leading of the Spirit and being willing for the Father to change you. It won't be easy, but it will most definitely be worth it. Give yourself grace, and be ready to grow. Here's to learning the rhythm of Lent.

-- Emma
writer, daughter, friend

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