Today is Ash Wednesday, which means it's the beginning of the Lenten season. And this year, I'm taking the bull by the horns and am determined to have a different kind of Lenten experience - one that I haven't had before. Today, people are vowing to give up chocolate or soda or sweets or social media for Lent. And while Lent is a time for fasting from things that otherwise distract us, it's also a time for growth and preparation.
What is lent?
I'm no expert, and I do not, nor will I ever claim to be. My faith journey is still progressing, and I'm still constantly learning. Not only about the Bible and all of its glory, but also about Catholicism. Lent is the penitential season of approximately 40 days set aside by the Church in order for the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Lord's Passion, death, and resurrection. It's a time to prepare for the feast of Easter by works of penance - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
For the next forty days, the faithful willingly submit to fasting and self-denial in imitation of the Lord's forty-day fast in the desert.
"It is in these dark and still nights, these desert-times, that the soul experiences its greatest growth."
I love how Catholic Culture explained this: "There, in the inner arena, the soul battles the world, the flesh and the devil just as Our Lord battled Satan's triple temptation in the desert. His battle was external, for Jesus could not sin; our battle is interior, but with a hope sustained by the knowledge of Christ's Easter victory over sin and death."
That, that right there is Lent.
A lot of people (Catholics included) have questions about what Lent entails, including how to fast, how long it lasts, and the purpose of Ash Wednesday.
Why wear ashes on your forehead? - Putting ashes on ones forehead was a common biblical expression of mourning (1 Sm 13:19, Est 4:1, Is 61:3). Wearing ashes in the sign of the cross, Catholics mourn Christ's suffering on the cross and their own sins, which resulted in the necessity of Jesus's suffering. (source)
Why can't you eat meat? - Abstinence from certain foods is a biblical discipline. In Daniel 10:2-3, we read that Daniel was mourning for three weeks, eating no delicacies, not meat or wine. Catholics use a practice similar to Daniel's when, as a way of commemorating Christ's Crucifixion on a Friday, they abstain from eating meat on that day of the week during Lent. The only kind of flesh they eat on Friday is fish, which is a symbol of Christ. (source)
The Best Lent Ever
I recently came across a program by Catholic author Matthew Kelly called The Best Lent Ever. It's more than just giving up sweets or soda. He is encouraging us to dig deeper and experience this Lenten season like no other before - to make it a life-changing experience. And it doesn't take much. I want to make this my best Lent ever. My soul craves it, so I'm giving it my all.
I may not have all the answers, but I try. I'm a constant work in progress, and I'm proud of how far I've come. And this year for Lent, instead of giving up soda (I had one this morning, just sayin') or sweets or tv time (or any other activity or addictive sugary goodness), I'm deepening my commitment to the Lord. In addition to fasting (no meat on Fridays), I'm going to set aside time every day to focus more solely on quiet time with the Lord. It doesn't have to be several hours or even one. Each day will look different, but it's time with the Lord nonetheless. It's something I've been struggling with, and I knew that this time before Easter is the perfect time to take the reins and focus in on it.
"Our lives change when our habits change."
I am praying that this Lenten season creates a change within my soul and my life. I do want to be able to look back and recognize this time as when I got my daily quiet time with the Lord under control and a vital and routine part of my life.
Do you celebrate Lent? How are you participating this year?