I suspect some Christ-followers are uneasy about Lent. Maybe Lent was approached in a trite or hypocritical kind of way. Maybe it comes from a misunderstanding that while we are to praise God IN all things, we don’t necessarily praise God FOR all things. In fact, there may be times when we can’t praise God at all! The sorrow is too deep, the grief too biting for the moment to “be joyful in God’s presence.” And that is OK.
Lament does not automatically imply a lack of faith or trust in God. It does mean that we are aware of how far we are from God’s original plan in Genesis 1. Lament means that we believe that God is right: we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). But note: there is a godly version of sorrow and lament and there is an ungodly version. A lament and repentance that leads to a sense of gratitude for forgiveness and a concrete plan to change your ways is godly. One that leads to guilt and despair is not. We want to come through Lent into Easter joy!
Over the centuries, the Church has given us ways to help us lament in a godly way. These ways are the three emphases of Lent: prayer, fasting and alms-giving. All three, when done in Christian community and with a solid Biblical foundation, will lead our time of lament into godly repentance and ultimately, joy.
We pray, acknowledging that we can’t do life well on our own despite how often we try; we need God every minute of every day. We fast from food and other things so that we remember things do not save us; only God restores our souls. We give sacrificially to remember that everything we have is from God; we will leave it all behind at death.
By embracing a full range of emotions, by living as we were created to live, doing the good works prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10), using a rhythm developed by Christ-followers throughout many times and places, we deepen our walk of faith with God. While different, it is as much an act of worship to engage in practices of repentance as it is to sing and dance before the Lord.
Here are some ideas your faith community might try during Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (February 13th this year). Sing a capella during the Sundays of Lent as your faith community gathers for worship. Stand “naked and in humility” as the people of God through unaccompanied singing as much as possible. Do it as a communal sign of your dependence on God for all things. Call for a community-wide fast one day a week. As people are able, invite them to fast for one meal or more. Give them a Scripture passage to meditate on when they would normally be eating. Collect money for an organization in your community. Have a faith community work day for that organization, if possible. Add the organization to your prayers during corporate worship.
Just as sometimes we feel better after “a good cry,” I believe we will be stronger as people and as faith communities after “a good Lent.” Blessings as you lament in God’s Good Shepherd arms.
Does your faith community have any special celebrations during Lent?
What are you lamenting this Lenten season?
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog for the MSFL program and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.