I glanced at the text message, just before beginning classes on the morning of Ash Wednesday. The news was disappointing. Overwhelmingly so.
My intentions this Lent were to watch my thoughts and words, not complain, dwell on the positives. Now it was all I could do to get through my work day. When my husband picked me up, I waited until we got home and then vented, hurling negative words, shattering my goals for Lent before even twenty-four hours had passed.
My journey with Lent began many years ago as a new bride and minister’s wife. Since I had switched denominations when I married, there were some traditions that were unfamiliar. “Do you know what this means?” a parishioner asked me, during my first Lenten season. I gulped a little, not knowing the answer. What was really the purpose in observing these weeks before Easter?
Since those early days as a novice, Lent has evolved into a meaningful part of my faith walk, with three guiding components.
My husband invited some of his congregations to participate in a “Daniel” type fast, giving up sweet desserts and junk food. This is patterned off two passages. In Daniel 1:8-16, Daniel refuses to make himself unclean by eating Babylonian food. He calls his fellow Hebrews to give up “choice foods” for vegetables. Later, Daniel undertakes a special fast for three weeks to seek revelation about the plight of his people in Babylonian captivity and the spiritual bondage behind it.
“At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over” (Daniel 10:2-3, NIV).
Following Daniel’s example, we fast during Lent to consecrate ourselves to God and seek for wisdom and understanding.
Some years have been more successful than others, ranging from near perfect abstinence to numerous slips. Right now, I would love a cola drink and piece of chocolate. Okay, more than one piece of chocolate. Reducing excess sugar, though, is good for our bodies. Fasting is biblical and associated with times set aside for prayer, repentance and contemplation.
Before Lent begins, I write specific targeted prayers in my journal. These become my prayer focus, the needs and concerns I lay before God. Jesus provides the basis for this type of concentrated prayer during his forty days in the wilderness, a time of preparation involving prayer and fasting. The forty days correspond to the forty days of Lent (minus the Sundays).
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3, NIV).
The time Jesus spent alone with his Father prepared him for the temptations and ministry ahead, culminating with the cross. We need times of prayer and preparation for the work he wants to do in and through us.
Giving to others:
This year, I have decided to watch my words and focus on the positives, as a way to give to others, to encourage them in their own faith journey. I am still unhappy about the contents of the text message. However, this is where
the purpose of observing Lent is most clearly displayed. It is not about us, our performance, our failures. Practising Lent is not an obligation. Instead it is a way to focus on Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. Jesus died so that we could enter into relationship with him, obtain forgiveness and grace and the power to change.
God bless you!
Ruth Ann Adams is a high school English teacher, mother of five and pastor's wife. She has been published in anthologies and magazines. Ruth Ann has a passion to bring God's encouragement to others. She loves cats and British history. Her blog, 5 X Mama, can be found at ruthannadams.com.