Why You Should Start Lent Today
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College.
My grandparents were traveling deep in Guatemala when their luggage was stolen. Back in the states, my parents were trying frantically to mail them new medicine, wire money, and cancel their stolen cards. They had the usernames and passwords for the cards in question, the only problem was with my grandmothers security question: “What is your favorite season?” My father guessed every season he could think of—fall, summer, Christmas, spring, winter—none worked. Finally, nana called from a payphone with the season, “My favorite season,” she said without skipping a beat, “is Lent!” My father, who is usually a very calm, understanding man, lost his cool.
“Who the hell chooses Lent as their favorite season!?”
As we enter into the season of Lent, I’m sure many of us feel the same way my father did, and for those of us who aren’t Catholic, there even seems to be a negative stigma surrounding Lent. With a little basic education on the season though, it’s apparent that the lessons of Lent are not only beneficial across denominational lines but perhaps transcend sacred and secular lines to teach us both about God and about ourselves.
So what is Lent anyways? The basic definition giving by the Merriam Webster is that Lent the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting.
Depending on specific faith, family, geography and culture, Lent will look different and be called different names. Some people will give up meat on specific days, others will choose some item or act to give up for the season, in hopes that it will bring them closer to God, and even others will take on some specific chosen burden, giving some sort of money, time, or emotional capital rather than giving something up.
The general timeline, regardless, is this: The precursor for lent begins the day before the season and is called Fat Tuesday. This is the day you clean out your fridge and feast in preparation for the coming days of fasting. Next there’s Ash Wednesday—The day gets its name from the traditional blessing of the ashes taken after the burning of Palm branches (or crosses made from Palm leaves) from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. Ashes traditionally represent mourning, repentance, and the judgment of God and this day frames the period of Lent with the ideas of divine justice and mercy.
Then there is the observance of five weeks of Lent, all leading up to Holy Week. Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday—a day meant to remember Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem.
Then there is Holy Wednesday, commemorating Judas Iscariot’s intent to betray Jesus and Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper. The season ends with Good Friday and Easter Sunday—two days even Non-Christians know the meaning of.
If you’re hoping to get the most out of this season, I would encourage you to do a combination of things, but if you don’t want to read this particular paragraph, I’ll tell you know that it all comes down to a combination of alms giving, fasting, and prayer. Yes. You should do all three.
Firstly, Lent is a time for self evaluation.
Pascal once said that all men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. So just sit. Think about your relationship with God. Have you been reading scripture? Have you been praying? What are some things you feel take you away from God? Once you can focus in on that important relationship you can make steps to improve.
Next, Fat Tuesday it up! Have a huge party for many or just for one and purge anything from your home that will keep you from following through on whatever fasting you’ve decided to do. It’s okay if it’s not Tuesday and you’re starting off a little late. The important thing is that you’re participating in every part of the timeline—the ritual of it all—so it will teach you what it’s supposed to. I’d recommend you find an accountability partner—someone who will hold you to your word and asks you to do the same for them.
Then? You’ve got 40 days. Pray daily, at the very least. Make a point to give. You don’t have to give money or do traditional volunteer work to give. Write a letter to every person in your family or go to weekly game night at a retirement home. Give something up. We live such privileged lives in the United States. Take this time to stop and appreciate what you have. Fast from shopping or social media or alcohol. Choose something that won’t be easy for you and then rely on God when you feel like breaking.
In a technology driven world, full of apps, social media, amazon prime, seamless, and the answer to any question at the click of a button, we have less and less patience, focus, and memory skills. Lent is one designated time a year where we can actively fight that complacent lifestyle and ritualistically participate in something that builds patience and focus.
Perhaps the chiefest reason most evangelicals reject Lent today stems from the nature of the season.
Evangelicals often forget that for there to be a resurrection, there must first be a death.
Within Lent, there is this twofold understanding—there must be a solemn observance of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death along with the preparation and celebration of His resurrection for us to truly understand the message of the Gospel: that Christ’s body was broken for us and His blood was shed for us, for our good and the good of all the earth.
So, just as the Israelites must wander in the desert for 40 years before entering in the land of Canaan to cleanse themselves and grow in faith, and just as Christ entered the desert to battle satan for 40 days so he could be tested and proven worthy, so we enter into 40 days of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.