Today is Pancake Tuesday!
Actually it's not, I'm not sure what this day is called but apparently there's this pre-Lent tradition where people binge on pancakes before going into the period of fasting. I don't know much about it but what I DO know is that I'm going to eat pancakes tonight and pancakes are pretty great.
More importantly, though, is Lent. Many people know what Lent is, but I only really understood and began to observe Lent a few years ago, so I'm guessing there are many who do not know what Lent is. I'm going to do my best to give you a quick, unscientific but positive overview on Lent! Perhaps it's something you'll want to try...
*Note* For those who do not practice a Christian faith: While Lent is derived from the Christian church for the purpose of focusing on Jesus, I still believe there are values that can be learned from the observation of Lent, should you be interested in it. There is something very valuable about cutting out the unnecessary in our lives for a period of time and replacing it with something more life-giving. I see people of various beliefs do this all the time, when they delete Facebook for a month, or decide to live on 2 dollars a day for a week, or try cutting out a regular spending habit in their life in order to save for something big. So I hope this post challenges you to think deeper about your own life and what parts of it perhaps could use the challenge of Lent!
What is it? While Lent actually means spring, original words for this tradition were either "fortieth day" or "fasting time". Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, and is used as a period of time to intentionally think about the significance of Easter (the death and life of Jesus). The 40 days typically represents the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert, as well as other biblical events such as Elijah's 40 day fast/walk to Mount Horeb and the 40 days that Noah (et al.) and the ark were out at sea. Lent is not actually a biblical practice, and was developed as a tradition by later Christians (closer to 200-300 A.D.) as a reconstruction of an older pagan tradition (like many other Christian holidays). The point is to repent of wrongs, dwell on the love of Jesus, and spend more time in prayer and learning.
How is it practiced? Strict practicers of the tradition would cut out all meat, dairy and egg products from their diet. It has evolved from a typical view of food fasting to a more creative and subjective idea of fasting. There are two important sides to the fast: 1) Cut out something that will be a sacrifice for you (it's supposed to challenge you and make you think) and 2) Add in something that will be life giving! (also supposed to be challenging and make you think!)
Examples (I'm using ideas of people I know, you know who you are!):
- Not buying anything (beyond basic needs) and choosing to give something away each day
- Stop sleeping in your bed for those 40 days, and giving a bed to someone who doesn't have one
- Removing all social media and adding 20 minutes of prayer per day
- Stop eating at restaurants and donating the money you save to a social justice cause
- Cut out video games and use typical video game time to read or study
What does this process of fasting do? So often we settle into a way of life that is driven by the autopilot. Fasting forces us to be more aware and intentional. For those who are followers of Jesus, fasting challenges us to take the time we would have spent doing something mindless or insignificant and instead ask Him, "what can I learn from you right now? What do you want me to do with my time, actions or resources?" Fasting, by nature, can be difficult. There are times when we feel like we just cannot NOT eat a larger meal, or check our Facebook, or sleep for one more night on the floor. At this point, we are humbled by our own weakness and we can turn to Jesus who is so loving and ask for strength. It not only challenges us to spend more time with Jesus, but it also challenges us to look outside of ourselves! Cutting out excess in our life and using what we have to love God and others more is something that I want to do in my everyday life, and sometimes the observation of Lent can help kick start that practice.
For those who don't adhere to a faith in Jesus, I believe there are commonalities in what we desire. People do not want to live a mindless and wasteful life. We want to be intentional with our time and being loving towards others. We all live in a world where there is a lot of brokenness and pain, and we want to be part of the solution. The practice of Lent can challenge current habits you have and help you replace them with ones that are more life giving both to yourself and to others.
I personally am quite excited and a little bit nervous about the challenge. I'm going to cut out all social media except Facebook messages and my blog. I have become so tired with how often I am looking at my phone, and yet it's become such a habit that I haven't been able to effectively cut it out. Sometimes we'll be sitting at dinner and both Colin and I will be on our phones. Not okay. Sometimes I'll go to my room with the intention to read my bible or a book and I'll just end up on Pinterest for the rest of the night. Not okay. Sometimes I'll just feel disgusted with myself after 10 minutes of just refreshing the feed with absolutely no purpose. Not okay. This will be a time to finally say ENOUGH! And like any addiction it will be hard to break but it's very important that it gets broken. I want to fill that time that I would have spent on my phone with more reading and journalling.
What about you? Are you going to observe Lent, and if so, with what purpose?