I was sitting in my dorm room my freshman year of college doing my homework. It was a normal Wednesday – classes, baseball, homework – and I was finishing up my work so I could hang out with friends later. At that moment, my friend from across the hall walked in with what looked like dirt on his forehead. At first I was confused, scrunching my face and giving him a side eye, and so I asked him: ‘What’s with the, uh…” making a gesture to his forehead. “It’s Ash Wednesday!” he replied enthusiastically, “The first day of Lent…. do you not do this?”
As a lifelong non-denominational Evangelical, the journey of Lent is foreign to me. My home church is one that has always tried to avoid appearing traditional and liturgical, mostly because a lot of our congregation came out of that background. I had heard the word Lent and had been given short answers as to exactly what it is (“It’s something the Catholics do”) but I hadn’t actually explored what it means until this year. For years I have been under the misconception that Lent is not something that “real Christians” do, but only for those who are trying to “earn their salvation.”
That could not be further from the truth.
In the past couple years, I have done a lot of reading about Church history and the liturgical calendar (did you know that there is a legit calendar of Church celebrations??) and I have come to appreciate and practice several of the things I have found. I say “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” every time I end a prayer, I have become aware of the importance of physical movement during church gatherings, and I have fully adopted the practice of Advent – the month before Christmas when we anticipate the coming of the Lord.
It is Advent that has brought me to Lent. In Advent, we spend 24 days living in darkness – embracing our blindness in the hope that we can experience the incarnation of God more fully. We pray, we meditate on God’s Word, and sometimes we even fast in order to get our hearts and minds prepared. Lent is very similar to this.
In the 40 days of Lent, we are called to focus our entire selves on Christ, and more specifically, on his cross. Our journey is meant to mimic the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. In his 40 days of fasting and praying, he was tempted by the devil to give up his mission and find his strength and glory in anything other than his Father. His success in the wilderness started his inevitable journey to the cross, as he did not compromise his message in the face of hardship, whether that be from the religious and government elites or from the devil himself. On this Lenten journey, we get the chance to join Jesus in the wilderness – trust the Father in all hardship and cling to the Holy Spirit who never leaves us while we dig deeper into the message the Father wants us to deliver and live out.
This journey is also meant to remind us of the 40 years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness after being freed from Egypt. It is during those years that the Israelites were given the Torah – the instructions for how they should live as God’s people. This parallel gives us two very important reminders: first is that God calls us to follow his instruction BECAUSE of our salvation, not in order to earn. It was only after the Israelites were rescued from slavery that God gave them instructions on how to be his people. The second thing is that God calls us to be his people in word and in action. When the Israelites were saved, God did not tell them that they could live how they wanted now that they were free, for that is not true freedom. God gave them instructions on how to live the best life, the life that God desires for all people. He called them to work for the shalom, the complete earthly flourishing, of their people and their land. God calls them to live a life for the good of the world; he calls them to be a beacon of God’s goodness to everyone around. Lent is not a way that we earn God’s love – it is how we live in light of his love and salvation. It is a way that we can physically practice the call of God in our lives.
So here I am, an Evangelical beginning my first season of Lent. I am giving up a few things, but I am also taking on a few things. For example, my plan is to write a small diary entry on here for every day of Lent. The goal is to focus my heart and mind on Christ and his cross, so I can think of no better way than to take time each day to dwell on it and write about it. I will be taking short sabbaticals from certain social media platforms`while also working on my eating habits (putting aside coffee is going to be a challenge).
I have no idea what these 40 days in the wilderness holds for me, for I have never experienced this before, but I know it will be worth the journey. Here I am Lord, send me.