To be completely honest, I have not always loved the concept of Lent.
There was not an emphasis on Lent in my home or in my church. So, I usually used my peers as a barometer for the season. In out-spoken resolve they would declare what they chose to fast from; chocolate, sugar in general (highly brave), or television. Like a New Year’s Resolution, the days would unfold and each one would let go of their fast well before Easter arrived.
Self-discipline does not discover us naturally. Giving up luxuries is uncomfortable. Focusing on reflection finds near impossibility in our fast moving culture.
I longed for a period of focused contemplation over the Lenten season, but I never could grasp a way to accomplish this. I like some ice cream and junior mints. I think God does not mind, because I am kinder to be around when I am not withholding these things from myself. Giving things up has always moved me into a counterproductive state of being. Instead of focusing on God, I focus on how much I need a bowl of ice cream.
I wondered if perhaps I was not as disciplined as other Christians. Maybe if I truly loved God I could say goodbye to junior mints for the length of Lent. Each year of my life I have wrestled with this. I toy with ideas of things to give up, but usually shelf them a few weeks into Lent. What pressed upon my heart was a sweet whisper: you can’t do things just for the sake of doing them, because you think everyone else is, or you will be less of a Christian for not.
Sometimes as you pass through years of living, you grow more comfortable in who you are. Maybe I would never do well at the fasting aspect of Lent, but was there something I could do?
My one word focus for the year: kneel.
Just like that, after years of searching my Lenten answer arrived. I will rise up each morning fifteen minutes early to kneel in prayer, a set-aside time for reflection, additional to any other moments. Those minutes will be in stillness, quiet, listening. I will give up my own need to talk, worry, and obsess to God, to just be with him.
God gave me new life through Jesus Christ, and I long to give him something back in return. For me, that is Lent: to offer God an act of love in thanksgiving. My heart offered back to him in a quiet moment, just he and I. That is the most heartfelt gift I can give.
God cares that we think about him and that we love him. Whatever act of love you chose for Lent, let it be your love letter to the God who saves.
What challenges do you feel when practicing Lent? Have you ever struggled with ‘giving something up’?
What ways has God revealed himself to you during the Lenten season?
Lisa Van Engen is a freelance writer from Holland, Michigan, who blogs daily at aboutproximity.com. She combines her background in social work and ministry with her love of writing to help people place themselves in the proximity of renewal. She is a member of the Global Team of 200 and the Exodus Road Blogging Team. Lisa is married to Kris, a congregational social justice mobilizer with World Renew. They and their kids Ellie and Josiah love to laugh, take adventure hikes, and go to Lake Michigan.