Since I grew up in Churches of Christ, which historically do not observe the “liturgical seasons,” I never formally practiced Lent. I didn’t even know what it was for years. Sure, I had plenty of Catholic friends who practiced things like Lent, but as kids they didn’t really seem to know what it was, either. And I’m not slinging mud here. Instead, I’m hoping to help us think beyond the lines we’ve sometimes drawn in the sand so that we might focus less on terminology and more on the practice of godliness.
Lent, in this layman’s terms, is a period of roughly forty days leading up to Easter. It usually involves prayer, fasting, self-reflection, self-denial, and penance in the Catholic tradition and in some Protestant traditions as well. These practices are supposed to help us re-focus our lives on Christ and re-commit to our baptismal vow to pledge our life to God in Christ. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, there’s a lot that’s right with that.
There is no Scripture that commands a forty day period of self-reflection and self-sacrifice prior to Easter. But there are plenty of Scriptures that commend (and command) self-reflection and self-sacrifice. The biggest problem I see with practicing Lent is making the common mistake of ending those practices after forty days. There are some things we may do without for forty days that could be unhealthy or unpractical to do without for the rest of time. I get that. But the bigger picture for disciples of Jesus should include a lifestyle that includes fasting and self-sacrifice for the honor of God and the good of our neighbors. Lent is intended to help us get started.
But if we aren’t careful, the good intentions and noble ideals of Lent can become little more than a second failed attempt at a New Year’s Resolution. And who needs more failure? Who needs more guilt?
What we need is more strength, more grace, more patience, and more endurance. We need more of God in our lives. Which, by the way, is really the point of the season of Lent.
So, you ask, Should we practice Lent or not?
Whether you choose to use the term Lent or not is up to you. Whether you want to follow the liturgical calendar or not is also up to you. And, I suppose, whether you want to live a life of self-reflection, self-denial, and self-sacrifice is also up to you. But it’s only your decision because God allows you the freedom to live for yourself instead of living for him.
So I encourage you to take the best of Lent and apply those things to your life. In time, you’ll notice a difference in yourself, and so will the people around you.
And may the difference be permanent.