We are in the midst of our pilgrim journey to Easter and I have taken time to reflect on what Lent has meant for me throughout my life. I’ve come to realize that the way I embraced the season of Lent over the years, has been a journey in itself, a journey of spiritual maturity.
When I was a child, I remember being told to give up candy or chocolate for those days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Back then, giving up those sweets each day was more of following a set of rules rather than a choice that I freely made. I am not sure I clearly understood what it meant to make a sacrifice or how God was involved. Needless to say, I would over indulge on that sugary goodness come Easter Sunday as permission was granted to eat them again.
When I transitioned into young adulthood, I continued to give up the “allusive” chocolate during Lent, but my motives were still askew. My perspective moved from a rule to be followed, to a goal to be accomplished. God was not involved in any way still. I began to challenge myself to go as far as I could without the much desired sweetness. When I wanted chocolate, I would compromise and have a different type of junk food that contained no chocolate within it such as donuts and chips that I could find in vending machines at school. It was a bonus to find a Payday candy bar as that is just peanut, nougat, and caramel. As long as there was no chocolate, I was doing great!
Most years I wouldn’t make it all the way through Lent without giving in. My best run, as I used to put it, was my second year in college. I made it with no chocolate as far as the week before Holy Week. Then I went on an overnight camping trip with some church friends. We were a mixed group of faiths. As we sat around the campfire, someone handed me a delicious s’more and right when I took a bite, everyone heard me exclaim “Oh man!” As they questioned me, I told them I had given up chocolate for Lent, and here I was indulging in a delicious graham cracker, marshmallow, and chocolate sandwich. They all told me I didn’t have to finish eating it, but I shrugged it off and said I had already failed, so I might as well enjoy the rest. At that point, my Lenten sacrifice ended as there was no longer a point to it. I missed the goal and I would just have to try again next year. In other words, I quit Lent.
It was only in my thirties where everything changed. I encountered the Holy Spirit at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia and the Lord set a fire in my heart and a hunger to dive deeper into my faith and to embrace it like I had never done before. During this time, I found my way to a new church with a focus on the Holy Spirit and my eyes were opened and my faith began to blossom. I was introduced to Jesus in a whole new way. Until then, I did not know what it was to have a real relationship with Him. This changed everything for me. My faith began to have a new meaning and I began to understand the Church and its teachings at a deeper level. That first Lent was even different as I was able to shift from a set of rules or a goal that needed to be accomplished to including God within that time. Lent was no longer about me, but about God and others.
I learned that Lent has three aspects of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I now understand better the meaning behind making sacrifices and growing closer to the Lord. I need to fast so I can feast more on Him.
It is not just about fasting from food because that would merely mean me going hungry, but fasting to bring me closer in my relationship with God. I’ve learned that when I fast, when I feel hungry, I can listen to the growl of my stomach as if they were like church bells calling me to turn to scripture and hear what God wants to speak to me about. (Something I learned on our I am Hungry feasting-fast series.)
I have also found myself going a step further and offering little sacrifices for others. For instance, last year I sensed in my heart to offer my fasting for a particular woman. We both had a great love for peanut butter and for forty days I gave up peanut butter as a way to pray for her needs. On the days where I was particularly tempted to grab a spoon and partake in the peanut butter goodness, I would instead stop and say a prayer for whatever she might have been struggling with at that moment and I’m reminded of a quote by St. John Paul II.
In his 2002 Lenten Message, Pope Saint John Paul II stated:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters! Let this be how we prepare to live this Lent: in practical generosity towards the poorest of our brothers and sisters! … What we give to others is our response to the many gifts which the Lord continues to give us. We have received without paying, let us give without pay!” (Pg 19, Lent & Easter Wisdom from Pope John Paul II, compiled by John V. Kruse)
This year our Community is doing a different type of almsgiving by interceding for the people of Turkey and Syria who were affected by the recent earthquakes and aftershocks in February. We are “sharing Lent”’ by placing a loonie (Canadian $1 coin) in a jar each day, for some luxury that we have that those in Turkey and Syria may have minimal access to. It can range from the simplest things to general things that we may take for granted each day. For instance, giving a dollar in gratitude for the clean water that we use to brush our teeth, or for having a roof over our heads to protect us from the weather. Recently, our furnace had to be replaced and we had to go one night without heat. We were each able to unite our temporary inconvenience with those who do not have heated homes and share this small sacrifice of Lent for them and their intentions. This is making us all more aware of the many blessings we have each day. After Lent, we will donate the money to a charity to help those in Syria.
Lent is so much better when we not only focus on your relationship with God, but also take a step beyond ourselves and make a small offering to help others, either in prayer or almsgiving. As I look over my Lenten journeys, I find that I now look forward to Lent each year. I am able to see a little more clearly, now that the Lord has opened my heart more and more of how big he wants us to love him and his people.
So, how is Lent going for you? Do you have the sense to make a sacrifice for someone else?