Lent has a rich and storied tradition in the church – forty days of self-denial, reflection, and prayer. I must confess that I have not been overly enamored with Lent. There’s a good reason for this – Lent became something else for me to do. Some other rule to keep among a host of others. I gave up rule-based Christianity for a heart-based version about eight years ago. In doing that, my relationship with God improved drastically and I became a tolerable individual. Plus, it keeps my heart-rate down. Now, I run away screaming from anything that resembles legalism in the slightest.
Lent for most folks today is a second chance at recouping the losses of New Year’s Day resolutions…only this time, there’s a little divine intervention. Others opt for silly self-denials – caffeine, sugar, candy. If we refuse to stress out over Lenten commitments we often end up trivializing them. Neither does anything for the soul. What’s more, I understand the importance of fasting, but am put off by people gearing up to fast for a specific period of time for no good reason. Once God began to show me the importatnce of living a “fasted” life, my need for a calendar date to start a fast went out the window…and with it, the relevance of Lent.
But (as is often the case) I’m wrong. Not for decrying triviality or legalism, but for not approaching Lent in a different way. Lent is important when it promotes serious reflection, healthy spirituality, and improves relationships. Okay. Great. But how? Well, this is what I’ve come up with. You’re welcome to adapt it as you see fit. Rather than giving up sweets or sodas, I try to “fast” things that will improve my quality of Christianity. Here are two examples.
First, I have fasted people for Lent before. Rather I should say that I fast a person’s influence over me. Let me explain. We all have people in our lives that irritate us or get under our skin – classmates, co-workers, relatives, even our friends. I don’t fast their presence in my life – they are gonna be around me anyway. But I do fast their control over my emotions and ability to wreck my mood. I fast those sleepless nights where I continually play a conversation I had with them while thinking up extremely clever comebacks to say. I figured out that when I do those things I am giving that person extreme control over my thought life that would be better used for something that actually matters. So I “fast” that person for 40 days. It’s absolutely liberating.
Another example: I have fasted expectations I have for another person for 40 days. Often times, my disappointment with another has to do with what I believe they should be willing to do rather than what they actually are doing. Of course, this can be a problem in marriages, but it applies to all the same people groups I mentioned above as well. Most times our anger towards others involves a big, fat SHOULD: how we believe others should behave rather than allowing them the liberty to live their own lives as they please. So, I will locate an individual upon whom I have placed unrealistic expectations – a spouse, child, co-worker, church leader – and I’ll completely relax any expectations of them for those 40 days. Of course, I don’t tell them, but I do notice that our relationship improves dramatically simply because they can feel that freedom in our relationship. The great thing is that after the 40 days, the relationship is usually going so much better that I continue that relaxed state. Truthfully, God means for our relationships to be that way all the time – Lent is just a way to jump start that process.
Be creative with Lent this year. Forget the cokes and candy. If used correctly, Lent can be a liberating way to create new avenues of spiritual health in our lives.