Lent, the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, is mostly a Catholic and Orthodox tradition. So, if you’re a Protestant, doing anything at all for Lent might qualify as “nontraditional.” But if 1) practicing Christian surrender; 2) stirring yourself to remember Jesus’ death and ultimate sacrifice; or 3) remembering your dependence on Christ sounds like something you want to do or should do, this might be the year to discover Lent.
Originally, Protestant reformers broke with the Lenten tradition because they wanted to stay separate from the Catholic Church. Today, most Protestants don’t celebrate Lent, but they have no idea why.
It’s true that Lent — the part of the church calendar leading up to Easter when Christians fast, remembering Jesus’ 40-days in the wilderness — is not commanded in the Bible. It is not a required Christian practice, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. In fact, I think Lent can be a very spiritually-helpful and God-honoring practice — and so do millions of other Christians today and throughout Church history.
So, if you haven’t jumped on the Lenten bandwagon, there’s no time like the present.
Resting and Wriggling
Traditionally, Lent is a time of fasting.
Fasting from food — “Man does not live on bread alone.”
Fasting from unhealthy habits.
Fasting from distractions like social media and television.
These are all well and good — even the fasts done for selfish reasons can bear good fruit. But the Lenten fast is not ultimately about self-improvement; it’s about remembering and honoring Jesus. It’s about his sacrifice, and our sacrifice in response. Lent is not about making ourselves worthy; Lent is about resting, and sometimes wriggling, in God’s grace.
So, if this is what Lent is about, recognizing our need of God and imitating/honoring his sacrifice, perhaps the traditional fast is not the only way.
While fasting is an excellent spiritual discipline, the Lenten season might also be well-served not by leaving something out, but by taking something on.
For the next 46 days, think about adopting a new discipline rather than simply denying yourself chocolate. Instead of swearing off Twitter for six weeks — or, perhaps in addition to that — consider spending a very deliberate 15 minutes in prayer everyday over that period. Maybe cut your superfluous spending and get deeper into the Word. Pick up a daily practice of meditation or journaling. Change the way you steward your time and money as it relates to the Church.
All of these additions can serve as a powerful reminders of the grace and suffering of Jesus. Each can be a form of worship and even of sacrifice.
The point is, while the idea of renouncing something during Lent has steadfastly served the Church for centuries, taking on new spiritual practices is another form of surrendering ourselves to Christ. In the end, it matters less whether we are subtracting or adding to our lives, as long as it is done as a fragrant offering to the one this season is pointing toward.