Lent: saying no or saying yes?
This year the 1st of March sees Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the period preceding Easter known as Lent. Lent is the 40 day period before Easter recalling Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Though practised slightly differently in the Eastern and Western churches, it is marked by a time of spiritual preparation including fasting, whether from food or from other things such as smoking, television or social media. It is a time to reassess our priorities and seek to simplify our lives. In the church I am in we have challenges set throughout Lent based on simplifying our use of money, the care of our bodies, our minds, our schedules, our relationships, and prayer.
The principle here of course is that we seek to foster self-discipline. Nowadays, Lent has often become slightly frivolous – giving up chocolate for Lent for example, more for health reasons (or perhaps to enjoy an Easter egg even more when Easter Sunday comes!) More ominously, it can turn into the opposite of what it was intended to be – becoming an opportunity for self-aggrandisement and a fostering of the kind of public and self-righteous self-promotion which Jesus spoke out against very strongly.
It seems to me we are in danger of missing the point (something Christians can occasionally specialise in!) If we think back to the original story of the temptations, they are a story of Jesus battling not so much to say no (though it involved that) but to say “Yes”. Saying no to plans which would have been what everyone predicted and would have welcomed – providing material needs (stones to bread), doing the spectacular (throw yourself from the temple), get power the wrong way (bow down to worship the devil and share in his (non-existent) lordship of the world). But – much more importantly – it was about Jesus saying YES! Yes to the plan of God which was surprising, sacrificial, but ultimately able to transform us into people who look like him.
So – are you giving up anything for Lent this year? Or changing anything else? If so, I hope you can make space to make it not so much as no, but a yes to something new that God might have for you. That, surely, is much more what the adventure of discovery that Lent is intended to be?