Hello Reader! Today marks this year’s Ash Wednesday. There are a lot of great blogs available for the deep theological meaning of Lent but this isn’t one of them. No, this one is a practical, down to earth, 4-1-1 on the Lenten season. A little spoiler alert, Lent helps you and your neighbors.
What is Lent?
Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent marks the 6 weeks before Easter and it is a season focused on growing closer to God. Most people associate the season of Lent with the practice of giving up something. The question of what to give up is a typical and fine one but it can only take us so far. The more heart-felt question regarding Lent is “where in my life have I gotten away from God and what are the practices/disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?”. –Ruth Haley Barton, the Transforming Center
Ash Wednesday invites us to be as honest as we can be about the ways we might have gotten away from God. So during this season we can choose spiritual practices that help us renew our passion for God and invigorate our daily purpose of loving others well as Christ loves us.
Why the ashes?
The ashes are a symbolic gesture to acknowledge our human finiteness and mortality. The ashes carry the same meaning in the Old Testament of inward repentance and mourning as we are aware of our grief and sin. Pausing for a Lent service and recognizing the meaning behind the gesture is helpful to shake us out of comfortable daily grinds or out of denial.
“As serious as the Lenten season is, it is also a time of great hope as we experience God’s steadfast love for us. We are assured of God being with us and for us. In the shadow of the crosses of Lent we are assured of much needed forgiveness and new life available for all who turn to him.”-R.Barton
It’s not just about me.
I grew up in a faith community that practiced Lent in this manner and then when I stepped away for a while from any faith community the idea of growing closer to God stayed with me. Now back in a faith community and having been invited into others lives to help with their overall health, I think practicing Lent can have some significant benefits that include the “one-anothers” talked about in Scripture.
We don’t practice Lent because…
- We think the things we are giving up are necessarily bad
- We are trying to score points or earn things from God
- We do so out of obligation or duty
We do practice Lent because…
- We want to allow God to shape our stories by entering into the journey with our physical bodies.
- We want to become aware of things in our lives that are good in them-selves but have started holding too much meaning in our lives so that we want them more than God. Then we want to turn toward God.
- We want to rid ourselves of distractions and focus on celebrating life together.
- We want to prepare ourselves for the season of celebration in Easter.
The purpose for engaging in Lenten disciplines is that we would become more aware of our soul cries and heartfelt needs for God. We choose to practice daily changes of habits, called disciplines, which tune our hearts to God’s heart and free us from distractions.
Lent is a purposeful turning away from distraction and turning toward disciplines that help quiet us and then move us purposefully. The helpful cleansing, repentance, and fine-tuning clear away the clutter to free us to receive God’s love for us, and to give out of that love to others around us.
Lent and our neighbors
That’s the spoiler, the purpose of Lent is about God loving us but because it’s God-designed it doesn’t stop with us. Yes our hearts and souls are transformed more like the character of God so that we become empowered and inspired to love others. The flow of hope goes to those who live under the same roof and those who live next door.
What if this year you practiced this discipline called Lent and you let the overflow create a path to that person next to you?
So I invite you today to make a start with Lent of turning away from things that distract you from God and your identity in Christ. Turn toward God and invite him to teach you a right beginning for this season. Read through and meditate on God’s Holy Word, gather together with others on the journey, and together share this grace-filled hopeful preparation called Lent.
“And Yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart…’”-Joel 2:12
Liz Lawrence, MA, LPC-S is counselor, coach and creative who is passionate about people. She directs the Streams Counseling Center in Austin, Texas and co-leads the non-profit Renue.Me whose mission is to invest in the dreams of leaders in underprivileged communities around the world. Connect with her at www.lizlawrencelpc.com or www.renue.me
- Photo from pinterest pinned by squidoo.com