I’d like to believe that I’m an expert at something, but most days I can’t even boil water without a recipe. I sometimes think my only area of expertise is in failing, in trying and not succeeding, in starting and stopping, in almost but not quite. It is the season of Lent, the season of letting go and fasting. But how does one truly observe Lent? Once considered a strictly Catholic observance, there is now a return to the liturgical, the spiritual disciplines of our ancestors. There is no one way to observe Lent and heaven knows, this rule follower has been looking for a list of rights and wrongs, to-dos and to-don’ts. Give me a recipe and I can follow it to the letter. But the truth is, Lent, like much of anyone’s spiritual journey, is personal, designed by God, and open to variety.
However, there are a few ingredients that are necessary for a successful Lenten season. First, one must have humility. God calls us to come to him in humbleness; “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Success comes when we realize that failure can be a success because it shows us our need for the Savior.
Second, one needs a teachable heart. We should approach the Lenten season with an open heart, ready and willing to learn what God wants to teach us. One can find essays on Lent, podcasts on Lent, even daily devotionals for Lent, all of which give opportunity to learn from God and learn from others.
Third, and most commonly associated with Lent, is the intention to fast. This does not always mean fasting from food and perhaps not for the entire 40-day period. Fasting can be as simple as slowing down and refocusing. Fasting is an intentional time of removing distractions that keep us from an intimate relationship with God.
Finally, Lent may not necessarily be just a time for fasting, the removal of something in your life, schedule, habits. Maybe instead it is a time for addition; meditation, prayer, contemplation, Scripture reading. The Lenten season is an opportunity to focus on the one thing that is needful, and like Mary, to sit at His feet.
I started Lent with a not-so-rigid plan. I had grand intentions of reading through Isaiah with an online community and reading a daily prayer from a book of Puritan prayers. Two weeks in and I’ve read one Puritan prayer and six chapters in Isaiah. I intended to fast from social media, just for the weekends. I didn’t even make it twenty-four hours either weekend (see: failure/my need for the Savior).
Even Peter had great plans and grand intentions. He was certain he would never desert Christ. Yet he still denied Him. And Jesus loved him in that moment and forgave him in that moment, and Peter went on to do great things for the cause of Christ …in spite of his failure? Or perhaps because of his failure? Success is learning from one’s failure.
Maybe we observe Lent each year because we are human and prone to forget. We need reminders, stones of remembrance, stories of witness. Stories of witness remind us and others of the great God we have, who knows us and loves us and wants an intimate relationship with us. A God who forgives our sins and our failures, and picks us up and dusts us off, and pushes away the clutter of our minds and the corruption of the world to give us a peace that passes all understanding.
There isn’t just one way to observe Lent, however there is much to be learned from the examples of others. And while the time of Lent, the forty days before Resurrection, lends itself to reflection, refocus, and renewal, it is not the only time of year that one can choose humbleness, a teachable heart, a removal of distractions, and a return to spiritual disciplines.