Today is Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent.
Despite being new to Anglicanism, Lent is a familiar idea for me. As a young teacher, a friend challenged me to give up chocolate for Lent. We were going to hold each other accountable. She gave up in a week, but I stuck with it. I enjoyed the challenge of doing something new.
Now that we are attending an Anglican Church, we celebrate Lent.
What is Lent?
Lent is a penitential time for the church. It is reminiscent of the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before His temptations. Traditionally this time is for “self-assessment, confession, discipline, discernment, and spiritual warfare.” For our church, we do this through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
What I Enjoy About Lent
I enjoy the intentionality of self-assessment (as long as it does not turn into navel-gazing. We live under grace, not condemnation.) This allows for opportunities to examine my heart, wait on the Spirit to reveal sin, and particularly to confess that sin and make amends with others against whom I might have sinned. Honestly, this is not a new practice for me but it is definitely more confined to a specific time of year rather than being sporadic.
The discipline of denying myself through fasting is difficult and simultaneously brings a certain charge to it. Rather than just picking meats and sweets to fast from, I am particularly challenged in my faith to pray specifically about what to fast from. I do not always like the answer. Usually, the Spirit has revealed an idol that needs to be dealt with.
Although Lent has an individual piece to it, much of it is lived out in a community. We are doing this as a body. We pray together. We fast together. We give alms together (in service projects, etc.)
And this is where I struggle most with Lent.
Personal Struggle with Lent
Spring is a hectic season for our family. Our homeschool debate season started with three tournaments in five weeks time span. I thought things would slow down as we moved away from the back-to-back tournaments.
We had our house blessing during Epiphanytide and a few others, which we did not get to go to because we all came home sick from our tournaments.
Most of our family birthdays are in the winter and spring. This is also a graduation year for us. I have a high schooler graduating, and my eldest son is graduating from college.
This does not include any of our ordinary life together activities at church. There are also our regular cell group meetings twice a month. In addition, every Sunday, we eat a potluck dinner for fellowship or catered meals after church reserved for catechesis (what most of us know as Sunday school.)
During Lent, our various cell groups will be meetings outside of the children’s service buildings in our various communities to pray over the social workers who labor tirelessly to protect children in our community. The following Fridays will focus on our government buildings, crisis pregnancy centers, and a local school. In addition, our women’s group will be hosting a clothing swap.
Ever heard the idea that life is a roller coaster? I would like to get off mine for a while and just. . .be.
Overwhelmed with Grace
The introvert in me gets a little overwhelmed at times. While I enjoy the community and I am growing to love the service projects we do together, sometimes, I just want to be home.
Lent seems to compound the overwhelm.
I crave quiet and slow, but at the same time, I also appreciate all that I have mentioned about Lent.
I’m torn over it.
And this is the place where I am currently learning to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus.
That is the point of Lent. It is the place in time where we are often most overwhelmed by grace.
It is always challenging to self-exam. It is not always easy to live week by week (and sometimes day by day) with people not in your family. I tend to want to control my calendar, so fasting on Friday with the rest of my cell group when it’s not my plan is inconvenient.
But what if it was God’s plan? What if this is intended to grow grace as I rest in His care for me during a particularly exhausting season?
No Rules for Lent
There are no rules for Lent which means that I am not required to do any of this. I choose it though. I choose (most) of it because I am learning what it means to live in a community. We are all in the process of learning what it means to die to what we want and live to what Christ calls us to do. Sometimes that means that we fast with the rest of the cell group even though that was not our plan. We have freedom in Christ, so will be some weeks that it just doesn’t happen.
The human heart and mind can only handle so much change, examination, and discipline before we falter. I believe that is why God does not sanctify us faster than He usually does. It is often a prolonged process that we cannot see happening. We need time to learn and grow.
I am in awe of my priests and deacons’ commitment to living this dedicated life. I am so thankful for the grace that says I do not have to measure up to it. God’s love for us allows room for us to grow, fall, and get back up again to grow some more.
Faithful to Christ
Someday I might be a better Anglican. I do not want that as my goal. My goal is to be faithful to Christ. The various places in the liturgical calendar, such as Lent, allow me to be more purposeful in my faithfulness. It’s guided purpose where my weak human heart does not always want to cooperate.
So I do not always like Lent. But I love what it is building and shaping in me. So I am thankful for the grace to do what I can do. And it’s getting easier every year.