We invited Jessica Snell to share her ideas for celebrating Advent and Christmas with purpose last fall. Listen to our interview, Simple Christmas Ideas Even We Can Do, here. Jessica wrote a guest post in January about Epiphany here. Now, since Easter is coming, she is going to share how we can prepare ourselves during the celebration of Lent. This year (2014), Lent begins on March 5. Thanks, Jessica.
In a crowded and busy life, we crave a time for silence and simplicity. We want to stop and reflect. To pray and to listen. To just be still.
If this resonates with you, I have good news: the season of Lent is here, and Lent offers all of these good things, and more.
What Is It?
Lent is a period of forty days during which Christians traditionally fast, pray, and give alms. Though repentance is always part of the Christian life, Lent is a time specially set aside for repenting from our sins, and seeking God’s help in following Him better. Lent is modeled after Christ’s own example of spending time in the wilderness, fasting and praying.
Lent ends at Easter, at which point the fast turns into a joyful feast!
Why Does it Matter?
First and foremost, Lent is a time that points us towards Jesus. His sacrifice in coming to live among us and to die for us shows such great love – we can never spend enough time contemplating his life or thanking him for it. Since we’re fallible and finite, sometimes we need extra prompting to spend time really pondering the wonder of God’s love for us. Lent give us this opportunity.
Also, every person’s life includes hard times: times that stretch us, hurt us, sometimes even overwhelm us. Fasting can help prepare us for those times, because it lets us practice seeking God when we’re uncomfortable or even in pain. It also reminds us that the Lord Jesus himself knows what it’s like to live in this hard world, and there’s great comfort just in remembering that he understands.
How Do You Celebrate It?
Traditional Lenten fasts vary from region to region and church to church, but generally speaking, the idea is to both give something up and take something on. Here are a few examples:
-Give up one meal a week, and use the money to buy someone else a meal.
-Give up watching television at night, and spend the time studying the Bible.
-Give up eating meat, and use the grocery money you save to support a local food bank.
The most common thing to sacrifice is food – either amount or variety – and the most common thing to take on is extra time in prayer.
The third traditional part of Lent (after fasting and prayer), is alms-giving (remembering and supporting those in need).
If this sounds difficult or confusing, or like there are too many options, remember this:
Lent is about simplicity.
It’s about concentrating on the good and important things, and letting the superfluous extras just fall away.
If you’re having trouble thinking of what to give up, just ask yourself:
- What’s important?
- What is missing from my life?
- What do I want to concentrate on?
- Where do I want to seek the Lord’s help in overcoming my sins?
And then start there. Usually you’ll find that if you’re trying to do one thing well, the unimportant things are crowded out. Take the next forty days as a chance to seek the Lord’s face. As you come into his presence, you’ll find that everything else pales in comparison to his mercy and love. Let the unimportant things fade away. You are going to spend some time sitting at the feet of your Lord.
She’s the editor of Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home. Broken down into specific sections like History, Traditions, In the Kitchen, Ideas, and Resources it is an easy, interesting read full of simple traditions and the rich meaning behind them.
Jessica blogs at Homemaking Through the Church Year.