a sad yet honest evaluation of my past Lenten experience
A week ago, the season of Lent began.
The first time I heard of Lent was in high school. A couple friends, one Catholic, one Methodist, were talking about the things they were giving up for Lent. This Southern Baptist girl was intrigued. I decided to assimilate this tradition into my own faith. Why not? That first year, I gave up listening to the radio in the car.
A year later, I went away to a non-denominational college. There, I realized that Southern Baptists did not have the corner market on truth. Shocking, I know. The idea of Lent surfaced again, and my university even had a service on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday? All of these new terms! Second year of my curious participation, I gave up chocolate. In the honest evaluation that 8 years distance brings, I admit that the chocolate thing was more about a hope to lose some weight than about sharing in Christ's sufferings.
And on it went. Some years, I "did" Lent, giving up something that seemed to carry too much worldly weight in my life; some years I didn't do anything. It was all rather haphazard, which I suppose is the expected result of hopping onto a train without bothering to find out the destination.
A month or so ago, I started seeing ideas and resources for Lent pop up in blogworld. Again, that desire to be a part of something beyond myself, something that would pull me in closer to Jesus, awoke. I asked Aaron what he thought about participating in Lent together. He thought it was a good idea. We looked at several different guides and landed on one from Matt Chandler's church.
I finally see some lines being connected.
Lent is a season of preparation. Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas, a very helpful comparison that I understand just this year. The sorrow of Lent prepares our hearts for the joy of Easter, just as the anticipation of Advent prepares our hearts for the gift of the Christ child.
In no way does Lent earn me a better standing with Christ. It is not about works, it is about the work being done in my heart.
As I voluntarily join in the sufferings of Christ (however small my offering is), I am reminded of him.
As I see my weakness in sacrifice, I lean on His strength within me.
As I ponder the weight of sin, I become ready to dance with head thrown back on the day we celebrate the victory over sin and death.
For 40 days, I am given the purposeful chance to drink the cup of suffering Christ drank. To identify myself with the man Isaiah called "a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. " To remember that had Christ not descended into the darkest chambers of hell, I would have no hope of emerging from that pit myself.
The dark makes way for the light. Without contrast, how do we even know what to call the light?
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. " -1 Peter 4:12-13
Somehow, someway, suffering is inexplicably forged to our joy. This is the purpose of Lent.