Why Lent?

Want to know how you can tell when your sugar cravings have gotten out of control? When your husband brings home red weed-eater line and it makes you salivate because it reminds you of twizzlers, that might be a clue. I don’t even really like twizzlers, but the weed-eater line is looking strangely scrumptious to me right about now.

I’m on day 36 of Lent, and I’ve chosen to give up sweets, candy, dessert, etc for the 40 days leading up to Easter. I chose to do this partly because of these ridiculous sugar cravings that need to be told who’s boss. But mostly my reasons are more spiritual in nature.  So, why Lent? It’s a bit strange that I would decide to observe Lent considering I had never even heard of Lent until I was nearly out of high school. That’s right—I grew up in church, I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and I didn’t even know what Lent was until I was about 16. Even then, my knowledge of it was limited and my general feelings on the topic hovered somewhere between suspicion and disdain. Perhaps my aversion to Lent in the past is because I was raised in Protestant churches where anything that smacked of salvation by works was avoided. I remember an acquaintance of mine in high school sharing that she was giving up sodas and chocolate for Lent and in the next breath bragging about her recent sexual exploits. I self-righteously concluded that I would never do something so trite as to make a sacrifice for Lent under the misguided assumption that it would earn me favor with God.

So, why Lent? In some ways my opinion hasn’t changed—I’m fully aware that my avoiding dessert won’t earn me any brownie points with God. (See what I did there?) So why bother? Right now, for example, I would really like to eat some chocolate chips. Why deny myself?
 First of all, self-denial is a good spiritual discipline. It’s rare that I have to deny myself anything of consequence. If I want new shoes, I buy them. If I want to go on a weekend trip with my family, I make plans and go. If I want to eat chocolate chip cookies, I eat them. I’m in a position where I can say “yes” to nearly every (realistic) craving that comes along.  While I do have to exercise self-control in many areas of my life on a daily basis, I find myself saying “yes” to my whims and desires far more often than I say “no.” Contentment isn’t a result of giving ourselves everything we want; it’s a result of refusing to feed our fleshly appetites and appreciating what we already have. Celebrating Lent is a small reminder to me to find joy in self-denial.

Second, Lent is about repenting and refocusing our lives on Jesus. I use my cravings for sugar as a reminder to spend time praying and reading the Bible. Frankly, this whole experience has been much tougher than I expected it to be. It’s shown me how weak I am and how quickly I turn to comforts of this world when I’m stressed out, exhausted, angry, and emotional. Observing Lent has allowed me to recalibrate and turn to the only One who can truly satisfy me.

Third, Lent allows us to partake in the sufferings of Christ. Now, let me be very clear: my giving up sweets for 40 days IN NO WAY qualifies me to understand or identify with the kind of suffering Jesus went through. The very idea is laughable and probably borderline blasphemous. But I repeat: this has been much harder for me than I expected it to be. My teensy tiny itsy bitsy bit of “suffering” has given me a new appreciation for Jesus, who truly suffered and denied himself even to the point of death. I gave up something small and insignificant. He gave up everything. I am slowly (slooooowly) learning what it means to be sacrificial, and perhaps God will use this seemingly trivial period in my life to prepare me for deeper levels of suffering and sacrifice.

Finally, observing Lent makes us appreciate Easter that much more. Easter is a day to rejoice and celebrate and shout hallelujah and cry tears of joy—suffering doesn’t last forever. Death is defeated. Jesus is Lord. There’s nothing sweeter than that.

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