I grew up attending mostly very conservative, evangelical churches. We did not participate in the season of Lent. Some of my Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders implied that Lenten practices like giving up chocolate for 40 days or praying a certain set of prayers every day was “Catholic,” but not necessarily Christian. I remember one saying, with a serious dose of arrogance in her voice, “We don’t need all of that stuff, because we’ve got Jesus.” These leaders were not exactly welcoming toward our sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church!
I did not pay any attention to the season of Lent until I began seminary. One of the professors there spoke in class about the power of the rituals and the practices of the church seasons. He especially noted Lent and its invitation to “give something up.”
I decided to give up sweets. It was a disastrous choice. I went crazy without a little cookie or cake every day. I was on edge all of the time. I snapped at my wife, I yelled at the dog and I ignored the cat. I was not fun to be around.
About three weeks into the season I mentioned my reaction to the professor who had spoken so highly of Lent. He said, “When you give something up for the season the act will often help to reveal what kind of person you are. Apparently, you are a real jerk!” He said this with a huge laugh. Believe it or not, he was my favorite teacher. Because I admired him so much I paid attention to his comment, even though he was only kidding. I realized he was on to something. I didn’t like what was being revealed about me but it was definitely something I needed to heed.
Many years later I encountered a similar thought from the great writer, Frederick Buechner: “During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.” As my experience above demonstrates that is not always an easy thing to take on but it is certainly one that will be worthwhile if we can find the the courage to look honestly at ourselves and who we are.
My prayer to begin every day during this season will be simple: “God help me the person you created me to be.” I hope you’ll join me in this daily work.
Grace and peace to you,