40 days and counting
As a wise person once shared, “It’s not what we eat, but what we digest that makes us strong. It’s not what we gain, but what we save that makes us rich. It’s not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned. It’s not what we preach or pray, but what we practice that makes us disciples.”
Today (March 6) is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days and nights (not counting Sundays) before Easter. Lent is a traditional time for Christians to take special time to grow spiritually.
In some church traditions, the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross on Ash Wednesday. Ashes are the product of burning something away. Thus, ashes are an appropriate symbol for the start of the season of Lent. We are encouraged during the season of Lent to “burn away” anything in our lives that blocks us from fully realizing the love of God we experience through the sacrifice of Christ at Easter.
Some traditions also encourage their faithful to give up something for Lent. This was not a tradition I grew up with, but one that I have since adopted. The idea is not to give up something that you won’t miss. (I first suggested giving up spinach, liver, and cleaning up my room for Lent – it didn’t fly with my mom!) The idea is to give up something that is a sacrifice and make it as an offering for the Lord. For some it may be chocolate or some other food item. For some it might be Facebook or texting, or electronic devices. For others, it might be time. During the season of Lent they give up time out of their normal everyday schedule and dedicate that time to God. This could be in prayer, through reading Scripture, personal development, or even in acts of service or kindness.
The point of giving something up, of fasting, is to cultivate the inner life. When we fast, we realize how truly dependent on God we are. We open our hearts, our minds, and our bodies to God’s love in our lives. We look at the ways that we need to grow, and dedicate ourselves to becoming a-better-version-of-ourselves. And when we make ourselves available to God, incredible things can happen. That’s what can make Lent so powerful.
Is putting an ash mark on the forehead or giving up something for Lent necessary? Of course not, but any action or practice that draws us closer to our Lord will result in blessings, and these are visible actions that encourage us to focus on our relationship with our Lord and what Easter means in the life of us as Christ followers.
I invite you to join me in these next 40 days of Lent to take special steps to do something that will honor God, bless others, and help us realize even more fully the love, hope, and promise of God for us in the cross and resurrection.