In 2020, I participated in Lent for what I remember to be the first time in my life. I always thought Lent was a Catholic holiday and since I’m not Catholic, I didn’t care about it. When I learned it wasn’t exclusive to Catholics, I thought it was about giving things up and I didn’t want to do that. Last year, on Annie F. Downs‘ podcast, That Sounds Fun, the She Reads Truth (and He Reads Truth) ladies taught me what Lent is and isn’t. Lent is a liturgical (sort of a fancy word for religious or Christian) holiday. It is not a Biblically mandated holiday. Lent is about focusing on Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. It is not about giving something up for the sake of giving something up. Lent is a private and personal humbling of self and the acknowledgment that we are sinful and broken without God. Lent is not a public statement to show how great we are for “humbly” giving something up for Christs’ sake. Lent is an acknowledgment that Christ’s death made us pure, holy, and forgiven. That in dying for us He gave us grace and mercy, saving us from an eternal death that we all deserve. It is not an act of earning salvation. We can’t earn salvation. Salvation is a gift, with no strings attached, given to us by God and God alone and that is what Lent is observing. It is a remembrance that we are fallen, broken, and in desperate need of a Savior. My pastor’s brother is also a pastor. His church regularly acknowledges that we are “badly broken and deeply loved.” In turn, my pastor reminds us of that specific phrasing pretty often too. In essence, that is what we are observing in the days of Lent. We’re remembering Romans 5:8, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and goes 46 days until Easter/Resurrection Sunday. We model it from the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness after His baptism and before He was tempted. I could go into the ins and outs of the traditional observance of Lent, but I’m not going to. Partly, because I’m new to Lent. Mostly, because I believe Lent is personal and private. Instead, I’ll remind you of what Jesus did in the wilderness. Jesus fasted. He abstained from all the luxuries of life. I’m not sure what luxuries looked like during His lifetime, but I know He gave them up for forty days in the wilderness. Why? To grow closer to the Father. In His physical weakness, He became spiritually strong through prayer and Bible study. Then, when Satan attacked with fiery arrows of temptation, Jesus was ready with a shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. And that is what Lent is all about. It’s prayer, Bible study, and becoming more like Jesus, because our battle is not physical, it is spiritual, mental, and emotional.
When I decided to observe Lent for the first time in 2020, it was February 26 and life was still normal. I had no idea what the year would be like. All I knew was that I needed to be closer to God. So, I gave up a few things, including secular music, movies, and TV shows. For as long as I can remember, music, movies, and TV have brought me comfort. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, because we all have things we enjoy. I do think there’s something wrong with giving all your free time to such things. And that’s what I had been starting to do again. It wasn’t the first time I’d abstained from secular entertainment and it probably won’t be the last. This time it was different though. This time we had about two weeks left before facing a national and global shutdown. This time I was about to go into three consecutive months of not having much to do and rarely leaving my room.
Normally, I would’ve been thrilled to stay home for 3 months. I’m an introvert with social anxiety. I thrive when I get to be alone all the time. And, in the end, I did thrive on personal level in 2020, but not in the beginning. In the beginning, I was so not thrilled. I was only 2 weeks into a 6 week “fast” from secular music, movies, and TV. What was I supposed to do with myself if I couldn’t be entertained in ways I usually would be? If I’m being honest, I was a little mad at God. Mostly I was annoyed, but I was a little mad too. How was I supposed to survive a global pandemic without my usual means of escape? And therein lay my problem. Instead of running to God in a global emergency, I was complaining about giving something up. I even said or thought many times, “If I had known this, I wouldn’t have given that up.” Yikes. That is a sure sign that I had given the right things up for Lent. I was mourning the loss of something I wanted to run to instead of running to Whom I should’ve run to. God was the only One who was prepared for the pandemic and I was still struggling to run to Him. Though it was hard in the beginning, I am now thrilled I gave up secular entertainment right before I’d “need” it most.
There isn’t anything wrong with secular entertainment in and of itself. In fact, God teaches me more often through my favorite shows, movies, and music than anything else. I believe if I had said, “You know what? I’ll do Lent next year. This year I need to be entertained,” then I would’ve been okay. As earlier stated, Lent is not a God-ordained holiday. It is a manmade holiday that observes God’s goodness and our sin. However, I do believe we are most healthy when we take times to abstain from things that aren’t inherently Christian. I also believe had I changed my mind about Lent, then I would’ve missed out on some major blessings. I might’ve even suffered through the year.
I had been watching The Vampire Diaries when I started Lent. If I had been watching that at the beginning of the pandemic instead of abstaining, I don’t think I would have started my own daily journaling habits. If I had been listening to secular music when it all started, I don’t think I would’ve built the habit of starting and ending each day with Scripture and worship music. If I had been binging anything at the beginning of the pandemic, I don’t think I would’ve started a study of the Gospels and Acts which I’m still doing almost a year later. And if I hadn’t started daily journaling, morning and evening worship time, and my study of the Gospels and Acts, I think 2020 would’ve crushed me. I do think part of what prepared me for 2020 was the practice of Sabbath and pausing (literal quiet time throughout the day) that I started in 2019. But more than anything, I think what prepared me for giving up so much in 2020 was that I’d already told God I was willing to give and get my comfort to and from Him. Otherwise, I genuinely believe I would’ve gone down a dark path in 2020 and I’m not sure I would’ve been able to get out of it. Because I’ve faced hard times in the past and I didn’t handle them well until I learned to humble myself before God and draw closer to Him.
So, in 2021, I highly suggest you consider observing Lent if you don’t already plan to do so. If you choose not to observe Lent, I still highly recommend you evaluate your life and figure out what’s out of alignment. You’re human and therefore imperfect which pretty much means there’s always something in your life that’s out of alignment with God. So, what is it for you? What can you give up for Lent? What can you take in for Lent? What can you give to the Lord as a gesture of saying, “All I need is You, God.” What is causing you to stumble? What are you placing a little or a lot too close to God’s presence in your life? The commandment to “have no other gods before Me” means your love for anything other than God should look like hatred in comparison. Are you running to something other than God for comfort? It might be time to let that thing go, maybe forever or maybe temporarily.
At the end of the lockdown in Texas, when we started to open back up again, I opted not to go back to church right away. Part of it was because wearing a mask for longer than a few minutes gave me anxiety (I’ve gotten used to it now). Mostly, I knew I let the building and body of church–what feels most like home and family to me–get a little too close to God in my life. I had to get right with God and say, “I’m grateful for the gift you’ve given me by way of my church building and church family. I am more grateful for you, the Giver. You are God and You are my comfort, strength, and treasure. Nothing in my life matters compared to You. Not my people. Not my home. Not my comfort.” When I knew God was in the right place in my life, I was able to go back to church–a month after physical services started–and it was all the more special. And that’s what Lent is all about. We give something up, sometimes even things that are mostly or fully good for us, and we draw closer to God. When we give things up for God, whether temporarily or permanently–He’s going to give us something so much better. I fully and completely believe that, even if we don’t always feel or see it.
Remember, Lent isn’t about rules and it isn’t a Biblical ordinance. You don’t have to observe it and there are no rules. You don’t necessarily have to give anything up. You might need to start something. I believe Lent is personal and private, especially before and during the observance. So, I won’t tell you what I’m doing this year, at least not now. I will say for me Lent 2021 is more about adding spiritual practices to my life than taking other practices out. We gave up a lot in 2020 and a lot of us picked up a lot of healthy practices. Maybe you can’t think of something to give up. Or maybe you can’t do it with a willing heart. That’s okay. Listen to the Holy Spirit and He will guide you. There are many ways to observe Lent, but the core purpose remains the same. We remember that we are sinful and broken and that without Jesus’ perfect life and brutal death we would be hopeless. For more encouragement from someone far more experienced in Lent than I am check out this year’s episode of That Sounds Fun with the She Reads Truth ladies.
A final note: The purpose of Lent is to remember and prepare for the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Fridays can be seen as weekly observations of Good Friday. Sundays can be seen as weekly celebrations of the resurrection. Some people choose to fast or abstain Monday through Saturday and feast/break their fast or abstinence on Sundays. Remember, this is a manmade holiday. Let the Spirit guide you in how you should or shouldn’t observe Lent.
Disclaimer: I’m new to Lent and I’m not catholic or orthodox. Actually, I’m nondenominational. So, I’m not necessarily writing to those who observe Lent in a traditional sense. Instead, I am talking to all Christians of any denomination who want to find new ways to strengthen their faith. And I believe observing Lent is great way to do that.
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