I grew up in church but I never observed Lent in my life until a year ago.
I wonder how many of you are in the same boat.
My first encounter with it was probably on a podcast and a superficial engagement with it led me to understand it as a time where we deny ourselves something for 40 days as a form of spiritual discipline.
As a result my first Lent was a bumbling attempt which was aborted a few weeks in.
I've since done more reading on the origins of Lent and understand a little more of the "why" and "how" we practice this as Christians.
In my reading I stumbled across this prayer that we've been praying every week in Lent as a church in Brooklyn. Its the words of William Arthur Ward, an American author, teacher and pastor:
During Lent, let us…
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on difference; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from worry; feast on trust in God’s Care.
Fast from unrelenting pressure; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that under girds.
I've never been good at Maths (Aussie speak meaning 'math', its short for mathematics people!) so I missed that the entire Lent season is longer than 40 days and the reason for this is that Sundays are not included in the Lenten fast. They are days of rest and worship, "mini Easters" where we celebrate what God does in us throughout the week of fasting.
We've titled our Lenten series "Courage for an Uncommon Life" and our hope is that we'll tackle the hard work of spiritual growth, not just self denial.
Its bigger than quitting chocolate or alcohol and "toughing it out" until we can start drinking and eating again.
Its about putting down something to pick something else up.
Its about refraining from something we may feel dependent on that we might learn to depend more fully on God.
Its about confronting the fears and insecurities that arise in us when we're forced to go without and asking ourselves what we're learning about our deepest desires.
Its about learning to celebrate feasting because of the fasting.