Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Season of Lent (for the Protestant)

I have quite the mixed up faith background...Haha! My parents, who were "practicing" Catholics (or maybe not really committed in practice, but just went with it) baptized me as a baby. Then during that same year they converted to Protestantism. They sadly eventually divorced and my brother and I stayed with my dad. My dad lived out what Christians call a "man sold out for God" life. We prayed before every meal...even in restaurants. He would read to us every night out of our Children's Bible before tucking us in, saying prayers and kissing us goodnight. We attended a Pentecostal church twice on Sundays, Wednesday evenings and also attended their Christian school. My dad even held bible studies in our home and I'd hear him and others talking well into the long night about God. We were very involved and I loved it! My dad eventually remarried and well, that didn't last so long. When I look back, I think with the now two divorces under his belt, my dad just stopped attending church. He was embarrassed over failed marriages and also frustrated with God. He still loved God very much and he'd still have those wonderful conversations with my brother and I about who God is and why he wanted us to grow in our relationships with Him. We just didn't attend church anymore...It was hard on me and hard to understand why not. That's when I started attending church with my Grandma (my mom's mom). She was a Catholic...So, I guess that's where this story begins...

Growing up observing Lent was fun...Yep, I said fun. Some people might think that's weird, but I was excited and I looked forward to it. My grandma and I used to encourage each other to stay strong and to keep going with our promises to refrain from certain treats or whatever it was that we gave up. We'd remind each other of Christ's sacrifice for us and that we should be able to sacrifice this small thing for him. Lent is a time of renewal and reflection...and time of remembrance. So yes, of course there is a very serious somberness to it...but there's also joy! The word Lent means Spring. When I think of Spring, I think of renewal and growth. I am always so excited to see the new buds on the trees and sprouts of life in the dirt! I am in awe of the changes all around me!

This is what the season of Lent is like. And, it's not just a Catholic thing either. Protestants can enjoy this time too...and should. I would actually argue that it's a Christian thing! Lent is a rich season of preparing our hearts for a huge celebration! It's a time of remembering the ultimate sacrifice of Christ for us. It's a time of reflection. It's a time of renewal. Lent is also a time of self-denial...fasting, giving something up that you enjoy or serving others, etc...

Well long story short, several years later I eventually started attending a Protestant church. Personal stuff...blah-blah-blah...Anyway, I no longer observed Lent. But, my heart just couldn't let go. It was strange to not have that reflection time...I know, I know...Just do it. Why should you need Lent to examine your heart and repent? Do it daily, right? Right...Yes...I agree. There's just something different when a group of you are all doing this together collectively and at this specific time in preparation of Easter...the celebration of our risen Lord!

And so with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I recently started observing the Lenten season again...and I am very thankful for the renewal that has taken place in my heart!

Are you interested or curious? Are you just confused? Here's a cheat sheet...so to speak...

* Lent starts on Ash Wednesday...That's 46 days before Easter. There is a special service (not just in Catholic churches, but also in Protestant denominations as well) where the congregation will receive ashes on their foreheads. The ashes are a symbol of mourning, death and repentance. There is much scripture that speaks of ashes being used as a symbol of mourning and repentance...Therefore the receiving of ashes is done in remembrance of the suffering and death of Christ. To be clear, the ashes are not given as a sign of fasting as in Matthew 6. There is no gloomy or disfigured faces here, just repentant hearts thankful for the sacrifice of their Lord!

* 40 day fast...Why 40 days? Well, the 40 days correspond to the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting and preparing himself in the wilderness before he began his ministry. And, not 46 days because you don't fast on Sundays (the Sabbath). Sundays are always a celebration of Jesus' resurrection, so even during Lent there's no fasting on the Sabbath, just feasting! Now, you don't completely fast of all food for 40 days. You are to eat small and simply...basically just enough to give you energy. Meat (though fish is ok) is given up on Fridays. Meat is also given up on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as well...and you are to eat two smaller meals with only one fuller meatless meal. Now you understand why those who observe Lent also celebrate Fat Tuesday so heartily...Haha!

* Self-Denial...Along with fasting, people often give something up that they enjoy. Most common is sweets. But it can be anything that would be difficult...fast food or eating out, social media (I gave up facebook this year...Haha!), limiting your cell phone usage, coffee or tea, shutting off the tv...anything. The goal is for this to not be easy. Then when you're tempted or start getting frustrated over not being able to participate in whatever it is that you gave up, instead use that time for God...Pray, sing songs of praise, read scripture, thank Him for His own sacrifice for you! This is very personal and should be just that. Don't feel like you have to give up something just because another person did, this is between you and God. Ask Him to show you what may be taking up too much of your time. What is distracting you and distancing you from Him? He'll answer if you sincerely seek Him and ask...and when He does, let that go. Sometimes what we need to give up for these 40 days is actually something that we just need to give up period. So ask Him to help you grow during this time and to change your old habits by putting on new ones! (Ephesians 4:22-24)

*Service...You don't have to, but there's just something about simply serving others that makes me less focused on myself and more focused on God.

Spending time each year to reflect on our relationship with Christ is important. Lent is the perfect season for preparing our hearts as we reflect on His passion (sacrificial death) and resurrection.

We are not quite a week into this year's Lenten season and I already feel so full...though I'm fasting! My heart is overwhelmed by God's goodness! I am truly looking forward to the following weeks as I reflect on scripture, my Savior and his ultimate sacrifice for me! I look forward to growing in my relationship with him and I encourage you to join me!

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