Lent is a Christian church season that represents a period of 40 days which lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Thursday right before Easter. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, the word itself originates from the Middle English lente springtime, Lent, from Old English lencten; akin to Old High German lenzin spring, and was first known to be used in the 13th Century. Often far from feeling like a springtime, Catholic scholars still debate whether this season was observed during apostolic times. Regardless, this time in the church calendar has become known as a period of self-examination and purification that imitates Jesus' 40 days in the desert immediately following his baptism.
Personally, it has become a time of great spiritual growth for me over the years. Allow me to share with you what these 40 days have become for me. Perhaps it can grow into a special annual tradition for you.
Lent first becomes a mindset for me. I see this as my chance to separate myself a bit, just like Jesus did. It denotes days where I can give God my full attention and lessen the distractions to hearing His voice. I enter into Jesus' desert journey of learning lessons that only discomfort can teach.
I am an avid reader, so I always devour something focused on the life of Jesus that grows me in intimacy with and appreciation of my Savior. The best Lenten season I ever experienced included my reading of the book Jesus: Who Is He? by Tim LaHaye. This book was so full of facts that support our faith that it was amazing! If I didn't believe in who Jesus was and what He did before I read the book, I certainly couldn't do otherwise after having my eyes opened by this volume. Another favorite that I come back to each year is Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Filled with meditations on topics such as suffering, repentance, and hope by classic authors like Martin Luther, CS Lewis, and Henri Nouwen, I use this book almost like a devotional for quiet reflections on my life in Christ. Max Lucado also offers great food for thought during the season of Lent through books such as Six Hours One Friday, And the Angels Were Silent: Walking with Christ Toward the Cross, and No Wonder They Call Him the Savior: Discover Hope In The Unlikeliest Place. Authors like Philip Yancey, Beth Moore, Henry Blackaby and others offer meaty books and studies on Jesus as well.
Lent is also a time to couple my sufferings with Jesus' sufferings. A desert doesn't sound to me like a fun place to spend 40 days alone. The scorching heat sounds like it would leave me thirsty. The openness and extreme solitude seem scary. And I imagine the barren vista would become old very quickly. It amazes me that Christ endured this and in fact, was trained by it.
Some challenges or temptations I can barely face for 40 hours let alone 40 days. But when I look at the sorrows involved with parenting children who have special needs, I know that it can also be a long, dry, lonely season at times. It can take forever to get a diagnosis or to work out adaptations with a school. I can be surrounded by friends who either don't understand or who are sick of hearing about my troubles. I can also find myself dragging as I lack the spiritual verve I need to be reflecting God's glory through my trials. These are times where I'm grateful to have the angels to take care of me as they did Jesus. And I'm so glad I have a Savior who understands my pains.
When I get to Holy Thursday and Good Friday after a Lent like this, these holy days hold so much more significance and meaning. The last hours of Jesus life and the unbelievable sacrifice He made for me are so very real after spending 40 days of contemplation. I find myself weeping in remorse and gratitude as I think of every humiliation, every abrasion from whipping, every bruise from beating and the deep, deep wounds of crucifixion. My heart almost explodes from the responsive love Jesus' sacrifice draws out of me.
And Easter, oh what a joy! It is far more powerful and real to experience how Christ overcame and conquered by His death and resurrection when I have spent all that time focusing on the darkness. The sense of freedom is truly remarkable! I feel spiritually renewed and excited once again to share that hopeful, transformative, news with a sad and desperate world.
While I want to affirm that we are not saved by rituals, some intentional spiritual practices can be water to our souls when they provide our forgetful minds with significant meaning. I find the observance of Lent to be one such practice. I invite you to spend these days in the desert with me each year. I pray it will not leave you the way it finds you.
Pray: Lord, help me to use these days before Easter to recall what you did for me. Help me to be utterly filled by this desert season, so I can become more effective in sharing the news of Your hope with a hurting world.
~ Barb Dittrich