Welcome to Lent, a period of forty days historically celebrated as a time of examination and preparation leading up to Easter.
How should Lent be spent? That’s an important question worth exploring. Lent repeats ever year, and many people say that they look forward to this journey because it helps them focus on their spiritual life. Other folks report that nothing seems to change, and that Lent becomes just another rehearsed routine leading nowhere. Which outcome has been your experience and what might you want different this year? As always, the power of your choice determines where you will go and how you may get there.
For all its importance, Lent isn’t magic. Whether your view of Lent is more positive or negative, whether you’re skeptical or believing in church holy days, Lent is an invitation. As to what you’re invited to, that depends. Do you want to mature spiritually or is it enough to just go through the motions of another round of religious holidays? How you handle these critical issues will determine Lent’s potential for you.
Personal revitalization doesn’t occur automatically, but rather through introspection and then by making choices to close the gap between who you are and what you’re becoming. The critical crisis is the present, the now moment when you decide who and what you are and how intimacy with God can make life better. If Lent helps you achieve this then that’s great. If, however, traditional ways of celebrating Lent aren’t meeting your goals then perhaps it is time to take a different view.
Church holy days such as Lent can become stimulating reminders that there’s more to life than just numbers on a calendar. God invites the spiritually awakened to expect more than passively sitting through yet another day, another month, another year. As with much of religion, Lent can be sapped of its potential power if it is reduced to a static, overly formal façade. Don’t let this happen to you! God’s spirit energizes you for a spectacular journey from apathy to spiritual vitality. Take responsibility for your spiritual development. Spiritual health is your journey and you can’t ride piggy-back as if someone else can take you there. The power of God can transform you deep from within, helping you achieve a life of holistic wellbeing (health in body, mind & spirit).
Rather than focusing on Lent as an exercise in deprivation perceive it as an invitation to charge your spiritual batteries. Lent can be an energizing catalyst that can advance life-enhancing attitudes and actions. You can own and adapt Lent in this manner, choosing to immerse yourself in spiritual vitality rather than withdrawing into a brooding silence or soul sleep. Are you partnering with God on your journey through life? Lent is a great time to initiate and supercharge a new you.
Lent need not have anything to do with dietary restrictions such as eating fish on Fridays. No, that model of participation is disappearing and for good reasons. Consider “Claire,” a lifelong church member in a neighborhood near you. Claire had been indoctrinated and confirmed by a church wherein a priest and a paternalistic hierarchy presumed to have access to God above ordinary people. Claire was taught that she had to rely on these religious specialists who alone were privileged to engage a bizarre kabuki theater, swiping their hands and chanting ritual magic.
Claire was immersed into Lent in a manner that relegated it as something akin to a temporary prison sentence, a confining structure within which all people were supposed to fit as they contemplated their sins in the wake of Christ’s distant holiness. After decades of vague but persistent dissatisfaction with the Church as Big Brother, Claire broke from the herd and risked social alienation. Claire had decided to seek the truth. In her new spiritual life, Lent became more than just another round of rehearsing repentance or some cattle-call rite. Claire now felt God’s intimate presence from the inside/out. Claire’s Lent transcended a fleeting abstinence and deprivation and became for her a life-changing fulfilment through God’s spirit.
There are legions of other Claires, perhaps some whom you know and love. The great news is that God invites all people who are unfulfilled to set aside bad religion and embrace transformation. The spirit of the Almighty can liberate anyone once they desire escape from a life divorced from spirituality. Seek God. Break free. Resist spiritual slavery. Many people simply don’t know any better and remain stuck until they embrace that pivotal moment of change.
Whatever you think of Lent or any other church holiday, pursue spiritual health every day. Live each moment as a holy, joyful and blessed encounter with the beauty of life and the embrace of the divine. Resist seduction by the mechanistic repetition of church holidays and institutional traditions, none of which on their own can ensure spiritual health. Your faith journey is a partnership between you and God, beyond what priests, holy days and rituals together can accomplish.
Should you give up something during Lent? Sure, especially if it’s something standing in your way and holding you back. Consider giving up the fear of stepping outside weak expectations of who and what you are. Claim God’s promises and possibilities as you leverage the bounty of God’s spirit. Own Lent; make it yours. Sure, learn from others and consider their advice, but realize that God calls you to make Lent your unique journey with the Almighty. Emerge from Lent stronger than ever knowing that God is your faith-building partner every step of the way. –Reverend Hoxey