Yesterday was Fat Tuesday, historically the last day before “fasting” should start at the beginning of the Lenten season. Most of you, hopefully, are familiar with what I’m taking about when I say the “Lenten Season”. This is the period of 40 days between Ash Wednesday (today) until Easter Sunday. It’s a six week period, generally speaking, and if you do the math you’ll recognize that it’s actually 46 days. But, many modern religions do not count the six Sundays during Lent…so that’s where magically we reach 40 days.
40 days is also significant as it represents the number of days that Jesus spent in the desert fasting shortly after His baptism by John the Baptist. During His time in the desert, Satan visited him and tempted Him in every way possible. Eventually, Satan departed, most likely very frustrated, and then Jesus returned to Galilee to begin His ministry. Jesus’ forty days in the desert story is explained in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Now I grew up Catholic and Lent was always a big deal around our household. We not only had to proclaim to mom and dad at the dinner table one evening shortly before Ash Wednesday what we’d be giving up, but also had to plan on fish for dinner every Friday night up to and including Good Friday. Ah….I can still taste those frozen fish stick dinners today!
At work yesterday, I made mention about it being Fat Tuesday….and more than one person seemed a little puzzled by the connection between today’s beginning of a 40 day period of “fasting” leading up to Easter. I was a little puzzled by the lack of information. Are we a less informed society? Have we forgotten about the significance of the Lenten season? Or have we simply given up on observing and honoring this season altogether?
What about us? Are we giving up on or giving up for Lent this year?
I did a little research and found a great story one author wrote to explain what he’s learned over the year’s of observing the season of Lent. It’s worth sharing!
First, the author reminds us that giving up something for Lent helps us realize something very tangible. Maybe you’ve decided to give up watching too much television over the next several weeks. We rarely give up something on a daily basis in our life, so making the sacrifice each day during Lent, makes it a great opportunity to place God first in our lives. Think of it as a way of removing some of our daily distractions that keep us from listening to God.
Second, the author explains that when something he was accustomed to on a daily basis is taken away, he found himself desiring that “thing” more and more. He talks about how his awareness to these other things in his life were creating a dependency on those earthy things rather than on our Heavenly Father. He goes so far as to describe the earthly things as “little idols” and through fasting, he saw the ability to give up those “little idols” to God.
Next, by giving up something he likes, and recognizing the unquenched desire for it, the author further explained how much of a “needy” person he’d become. He says, of neediness, “It’s the heart of true spirituality.” In scripture, we know that:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3, 6
While the author realized his “hunger” for other things in his life, he realized too the ability to redirect that hunger towards a more positive neediness towards God.
And finally, the author explains that the further he got along with his Lenten sacrifice, the less he found himself needing the other “thing” in his life that he had decided to give up for the season. The neediness of the one thing went away and ultimately allowed him to focus more importantly on God.
I know that one example from this unnamed author might seem very academic. That’s true. Admittedly, I had to read the passage a few times to see how to connect the dots in his example. The better lesson for me came when the author wrapped up his message describing another Lenten Season tactic that involves adding a spiritual exercise or discipline to your daily life. His suggestion was to start by ready a chapter a day in the book of Mark. Then when you’re finished with that one, you’ll still have enough time to finish up a second gospel before Good Friday arrives. I’m personally thinking about tackling that recommendation this year!
So, whatever you decide to do FOR Lent this year, I hope you’ll do just that. Do something. Find a way to connect the dots, if an academic approach is more your style. Or find a way to stretch your daily spiritual exercises by digging into a couple of the Gospels. If it takes 28 days, arguably, to make something a lasting habit, imagine what good you could set yourself up for by observing a 40-day cadence?
Prayers for each of us, as we enter this season of Lent. Prayers specifically that we don’t give up ON Lent. Prayers that we do something FOR Lent.