For the first time in my life I’ve decided to give something up for Lent. Actually I didn’t decide to give something up, my wife did. I’m just along for the ride and it seemed easier and safer to give it up as well. We decided to give up going out to eat for forty days. This is a spiritual sacrifice, as well as a budgetary god-send.
For the first time in my life I also have a rough idea of what Lent actually means. Growing up in a Baptist church, Lent is one of those strange religious practices that the kids who go to church but really don’t believe it do. These are the kids who for forty days will suddenly not do something, and when you ask about it, they shrug their shoulders and say they gave it up for Lent. It always struck me as a sudden bit of religious conviction from an otherwise atheistic person. Being a good Baptist, I always figured that Jesus had died for us and paid for everything, so there was no reason to abstain from anything, no matter what kind of spiritual discipline you were talking. Bring on the potluck.
But Lent isn’t some religious show that people put on. It’s a chance to be reminded that we are mortal. That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. The ashes are a reminder that we come from dust, and to dust we shall return. All this material stuff around us isn’t important. Lent is a symbolic sacrifice to prepare us for Christ’s coming. Certainly people can just go through the motions with Lent, but the same is true of any other symbolic spiritual tradition, like Baptism or Communion.
It always amazes me how the different denominations refuse to understand each other, and instead of trying, just shake their heads, point fingers and accuse one another of straying from the narrow road. Maybe we should look around and notice that we’ve all lost the plot.