In my upbringing, Lent was a time of the year when we ate fish on Fridays and gave up something like chocolate. In my mind, Lent was about self-denial– and this was just suppose to be good for me. So, sometime like on the Tuesday before Lent commenced, I tried to decide what I would give up. “What would I do with Lent? Would it be chocolate or soda?” I never understood fish Fridays, but I held to it and ate my fish fillet sandwich at McDonalds while friends got a burger.
What about now? What will I do with Lent? Now, Lent has less to do with chocolate or fish for me, but more about orientating myself towards Easter. It is time to shift my gaze from some specific distractions, and shift it to Christ and His redeeming work and restoration. So, how will I prepare my heart for this day– when God in flesh died and rose to redeem people like me? This could seem like a task in and of itself, and that is not what I want. I want Lent to simply help me to draw my attention to Christ, and prepare my heart for His work in my life. But, it can feel a little scary to open that door and see where God leads. Where do I start?
What do I turn to when I am bored?
Distraction plagues us. Not only are we “busy” people, but we have trained ourselves to be slaves to our devices. The other day I posted my tv armoire on craigslist and I found myself incessantly checking my email to see if I had any takers. It wasn’t that I could not put it off until later, it was that I was able to check it and to check it only took a moment. The distraction was small, but my attention was repeatedly being given to my email. My device had become like another appendage on my body and checking it was almost as natural and automatic as blinking is for my eyes. The habit was becoming, just that– a habit.
What is crying out for my attention? Giving up something for Lent can be an just an act of self-denial, but it also could be a way of diverting my attention and freeing up space for Christ’s work in my life. But what do I choose? I think a good place to start is by asking this, “What do I turn to when I am bored?” Do I turn to sweets, a drink, sport news, tv, images of women, etc…? Or, “What do I find myself daydreaming about?” It isn’t that all these things are “wrong,” but it may give me a clue as to what is grabbing my attention and becoming an unnecessary habit in my life. Honestly, if I had an enemy (and I do) whose job was to keep me from giving attention to Christ, I think my enemy would use distraction. If I am distracted than I easily forget what is important and who I belong to. These distractions may be small at first, but they will fight for my full affections. Lent can help us to identify these attention seekers in our life.
What will I replace it with?
So, I put my device aside for periods of time for Lent, now what? If I give up something, what am I going to replace it with? Holes get filled with something! If I give up sweets, then I can choose to turn to extra time in the word instead. As I am tempted by sugar, I can say short prayers of “neediness,” “I need you Christ.” If I give up music radio, I could use the quiet for a time for prayer, praying for the many needs I do want to pray for. If I desire new habits in my life, or to be rid of unhealthy patterns I need to fill the space with something else. Some thoughts:
- Getting up 15 minute early to just soak in the word
- Spending a little extra time at each meal for prayer
- Praying for each person you walk by or interact with and remembering how God loves each one of them, instead of looking at your device
- Having a simple prayer of “neediness” ready when you are tempted
- If you are a man and images are a distraction– turning off Instagram, Facebook, Safari, or the internet in private places
- Slowing down and riding your bike or walking– using the time for worship
- Giving generously the amount you would use for eating out or for coffee
Opportunity Through Fasting
Fasting is an opportunity to take this more seriously, for it is one of the best things I know for orientating myself towards Christ and ridding myself of these things that seek to rob my affections. For a few years now I have chosen to start Lent with a fast. It has become a time of pausing and asking, “What, Lord?” It becomes a time to lift up the most important things at the time in prayer, for a time of confession, and to ask Him to do His work on me.
There are so many things that go unnoticed in life. Fasting causes me to pause and pay attention. The reason I do like to fast at the beginning of Lent is that it causes me to stop. It creates the space that my world robs from me. Food also is an easy thing to give my attention to when I am bored. As I fast I must remember moment by moment my need for Christ in order to get through it. When I desire a most basic of needs, food, I cry out to God and say, “I need You.” Fasting is one of those things I can choose to do, but I need to rest in Christ and depend on Him in very weak moments.
Preparing my Heart
I need the soil of my heart softened so new things can spring forth. As time and space is created, I am able to slow down a little bit. And this is often when God seems to make known the ways of my heart. Confession is like pulling weeds in the soil of my heart so that growth can occur. Inevitably, I become aware of things I need to confess, or things that could change. I have seen God bring needs to mind that need to be addressed that at other times I may have overlooked or ignored. The fast creates this stirring– the Holy Spirit at work in my life.
As a result of Lent I hope to be becoming different. I easily see the dry and barren parts and want new fruit. We each probably want to be more loving, more patient, kind, less anxious, less self-absorbed, etc. We look at Jesus and see He was the perfect model of all those things. He was complete and we are not. Even though He emptied Himself to take on flesh, He never sinned. At times in my life, I thought I would just “poof” become patient– God would one day see fit to give me this quality. Or, one day I would do away with insecurity and could say, “I am completely secure.” But that is not how it works. Life is a continual transformation process until one day I am complete in heaven. Fasting helps continue this process. God uses the difficult and uncomfortable things like sandpaper to make us more like Christ. Fasting participates in this.
So, What do I do about Lent?
So, back to what I should I do with Lent? I can’t tell you for sure. Whatever you decide, remember these things are to draw our attention to Christ. Personally, a fast is often what makes me more sensitive to my need for God’s work in my life. I need compassion, so that I naturally plead for the lives of others and the world lost in brokenness. I want to see my sin for what it is– often self-absorption and indifference, and see it gradually replaced with the softness of God’s own love and compassion.
Lent is a time to leave the door ajar– and open for opportunities to yield to God, to step out in faith and allow Him to examine our hearts. These things are not just for Lent, of course, but hopefully will overflow into all the year. But Lent is a good time to pause and remember Christ’s emptying for our filling, His life given for a new life for us, His sinlessness for our sinfulness. Life is meant to be lived everyday of the year in light of this and Lent reorientates us and reminds us of this.
How do I start a fast or try one again?
Ask the Lord, “What, when and how long should I do this?” If this is your first time or it has been a really long time, start small. Fast a lunch and take time out to pray during that time. Or, think about fasting one day a week during Lent.
You may want to wean off of caffeine and sugar, if you are addicted to it like me!
Clear out some time in your schedule, so that you have time to pray and take a rest.
I have done different things. At times I have done a juice fast. I only drink juice for meals and water, hot herbal tea, in-between. Other times I have done just a water and light juice (watered down apple juice).
How long? If you want to do more than one day, I would start with 3 days. I always feel like the first day or two is the hardest. Once I move past the adjustment of the first third of my fast, I feel like I am able to focus better, have better prayer time and better interaction with others.
Give yourself a break–there are times when it may feel impossible ( a little like the challenges of life can feel at times). This is when we just say little prayers like, “I need you Jesus.” Or we actually rest or lay down and are reminded how much we need Christ. If at first you do not feel productive, it is ok. This is normal. Just be available and keep going. It reminds us that He is our strength. This is a good place to be.