23 February 2012

I Don't Get Lent

At the risk of offending or disappointing some people...I just don't get Ash Wednesday or Lent. Every year, nearly a week before Ash Wednesday, the posts start coming in about what people are considering giving up for Lent. The list is rather diverse. From coffee, sodas, and candy to social media, TV, and video games. I often wonder if people are just trying to outdo their friends.

"Hey, look at what I'm giving up for 40 days! Bet you couldn't do that! But I can cuz I'm doing it for..." And that's when I my mind ponders...why are these people giving up stuff for 40 days? Is it for themselves? For God? For their church? All the above?


Oh, I understand the concept of Ash Wednesday. It's the first day of Lent. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the beginning His public ministry. Thus, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ancient practice of placing ashes on one's head as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. Giving up something that's important during Lent is to encourage one to focus more upon prayer and repentance. The idea being to draw closer to God.

I get all that. But the practice of Lent is foreign to me.
 
When I was at WUSA9 in DC, my first job outside of Mississippi, I recall every Ash Wednesday seeing many employees leave on their lunch break and return with the little ash crosses on their foreheads.

As a Southern Baptist since age 14, I'd never noticed this practice in the South. Maybe I just didn't know many Catholics (or Lutherans or other denominations that recognized Lent). Ash Wednesday and Lent aren't really promoted in Southern Baptist churches.

So, did I miss out growing up? Am I missing out on not observing Ash Wednesday or Lent? Am I any less of a follower of Christ? Here's a nice summary:
Should a Christian observe Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday, along with Lent, is observed by most Catholics, most orthodox denominations, and a few Protestant denominations. Since the Bible nowhere commands or condemns such a practice, Christians are at liberty to prayerfully decide whether to observe Ash Wednesday or not. If a Christian decides to observe Ash Wednesday and/or Lent, the important thing is to have a biblical perspective. It is a good thing to repent of sinful activities, but this is something Christians should do every day, not just during Lent. It is a good thing to clearly identify yourself as a Christian, but again this is an ongoing identification. It is unbiblical to believe that God will automatically bless in response to the observance of a ritual. God is interested in our hearts, not in us observing rituals.
This addresses my curiosity about why some people participate in Lent. What's the motivation? Is it just because everyone else is doing it? Are some trying to "look good" or "do a good work"? I found this:
Fasting is a good thing when it is done with a biblical perspective. It is good and pleasing to God when we give up sinful habits and practices. There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside a time when we focus on Jesus' death and resurrection. However, these practices are things we should be doing every day of the year, not just for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. If a Christian wishes to observe Lent, we are free to do so. The key is to focus the time on repenting from our sins and consecrating ourselves to God, not on trying to earn God's favor or increase His love for us.
So, the focus should not be on Ash Wednesday, Lent, or any other ritual. It should be on Christ. My faith journey is likely different from the next person's journey but the key is where we end up. Here are some other perspectives on Lent.

Ultimately, while I may not understand, agree, or participate in something with another Believer, thinking less of them isn't permissible. Nor should they look down on me. If where, how, when, or why their worship brings them closer to Jesus Christ - that's all that matters. Sometimes we get stuck in spiritual ditches because our family was a certain denomination or always went to a certain church. Those things don't amount to much if you cuss like a sailor, get drunk every weekend, sleep around, and have an immature foul attitude about life while professing at some point during the week you're a Christian. This is when it's time to examine your faith and determine if you've really accepted Christ as Lord of your life.