I grew up evangelical. One could even call it charismatic. (I do go to a church with two separate receptacles on either side of the stage just to hold the multicolored flags.)
Lately, I’ve been inexplicably drawn to the liturgical tradition. The world of liturgy is completely and utterly foreign to me. Many people grew up following the traditional church calendar; I had never heard of it until this year but the Lord is inviting me to experience life in what I’ve always written off as antiquated and dull.
Last December, my iPhone Bible app suggested I follow a reading plan for the Advent Season. I had an idea that Advent had something to do with Christmas, which sounded appropriately merry, so I followed it and enjoyed it. That was my first introduction to the liturgical calendar, and it was an easy one to get my feet wet with.
A couple weeks ago, my Bible app had another suggestion for me: a Lenten reading plan.
Basically all I know about Lent is that it starts with Mardi Gras with a lot of boobie flashing and drinking and craziness, and then everyone brags about giving up TV or caffeine for a month and a half. Another dead tradition, a spiritualized second try at one’s New Year’s Resolutions.
But, drawn to something very old, motivated to look past our culture’s bastardization of everything beautiful (and inspired by an article I read on HuffPost Religion), I decided to choose a reading plan and find out what God wanted to say to me through Lent. I was a day late and missed Ash Wednesday. (I cried.)
“… we can become desensitized to our needs – the real hungers – in our lives. Observing Lent can help us wrestle with the reasons behind our perpetual consumption… [Lent] invites us to voluntarily jump off the hamster wheel of consumption and experience the pinch of abstaining from continual, thoughtless indulgence. It has the potential to give our frenetic, material selves a much needed break.” -Eileen Button, Hollow Sacrifice
When I read this quote from one of the devotionals in my bible reading plan, I knew instantly why I had felt so compelled to observe Lent, albeit in my own way.
I’ve realized that I’ve become desensitized to my real hunger, that I consume (in so many ways) without thinking or tasting or appreciating. My frenetic, material self needs a break. After all, that’s what this whole Simplicity thing is all about: Slowing down. Tuning into my actual needs. Rediscovering my deep desires. Making room for the truly valuable in my life. Exchanging that which does not last for that which lasts forever.
Lent isn’t just about giving something up, or even about living simply (as nicely as it dovetails with our family goals this year).
Lent, as I understand it, is about preparing yourself to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter by spending 40 days in penitence. It’s a season to be reminded of our own humanity, our brokenness, and our great need for a savior.
Because I run in the Bethel crowd, I know plenty of fellow believers who don’t do Lent because it’s viewed in our circle as unnecessary and even a little blasphemous. I am already justified. It’s done, once for all. I don’t spend my life asking for forgiveness or dwelling on my brokenness, because I’m already forgiven, and I’m no longer broken. I see myself as God sees me, as He sees Christ: whole and pure and worthy to come directly to Him. My nature is changing day by day as I look into God’s face; I live not in shame but in grace and joy and fullness. Spending a full 40 days lamenting about my sin and defectiveness seems a little silly in light of the truth of my redeemed identity. We don’t really do penitence.
But we do thankfulness. Because, justified as we are, we have a lot to be thankful for. Not just salvation, but for ongoing relationship with the only one who can save me from myself. We get to live in Heaven, here and now.
In fact, this Lent, God is reminding me that I don’t live under the law, but under grace.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” -John 1:17, ESV
“For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)” -Romans 4:15, NLT
So this Lent, I’m not giving something up so much as I’m adding some things in: thankfulness, intention, and freedom.