Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent in the Catholic Church (and other denominations). I have to admit that as I saw it creeping up on my calendar, I thought, “Aw, shucks, I guess I better think of something to give up.” I wished I could ignore Lent with its inconvenient emphasis on fasting and abstinence. Then I found myself questioning both my attitude and my assumptions.
Just as Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. This year, as I spent time preparing for Christmas, I found my anticipation growing. Easter is one of my favourite seasons of the year, so why wouldn’t I want to spend time reflecting upon it and preparing for it? That thought changed my whole perspective on Lent.
What to Give Up for Lent
Growing up Lutheran, I often gave up something for Lent with my family—usually sweets (we didn’t have a TV). One year, my parents and I decided to give up dessert, but my brothers didn’t. If they wanted cookies or pies, they had to make it for themselves (which they did), resulting in lots of joking around our house that year.
My husband once gave up sugar for Lent, and he now drinks his coffee with only cream. And Facebook gets awfully quiet around this time of year, as many people log off for forty days.
But why? I found myself wondering about something that I’ve always just done. One explanation I’ve heard is that craving those things—food or TV or social networks—can remind us to pray or turn our attention to God. I’ve also heard people suggest that instead of giving up something for Lent, we could add something—extra time for prayer or Bible reading.
Yet like the extra attention that charities get at Christmas as we all try to be as generous as the turned-around Scrooge, I wondered why we do these things only at this time of year.
Why to Fast During Lent
According to my Catechism, the practice of fasting is based upon Jesus’ time in the desert after his baptism. Luke tells us, “Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving.” (4:1-2 CEB).
Since that happens at the beginning of his ministry, and his resurrection is at the end of his ministry, I wasn’t sure how they’d be connected. The Catechism says, “Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. … By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (539-540).
That’s all very interesting (and makes me think I should ask questions like this more often—I’d be a lot smarter :). So Lent, instead of just being about a bunch of “don’ts,” is really about preparation and looking forward to Easter. I’m giving up sweets again this year, but I’m actually excited for this season now.
For more resources about liturgical living during Lent, check out:
- Make Lent an Adventure with Holy Heroes
- Praying the Stations of the Cross as a Family
- Around the Year with the von Trapp Family by Maria August von Trapp
- Behold the Man by Brock & Bodie Thoene (fiction about Jesus’ passion)
Do you give up something for Lent? Or, if you’ve never heard of Lent before, what do you think of these traditions?