During Lent, God Can Take New Space in Your Crowded Life
Here's what a person of faith learned from a rocky experience with this liturgical season
I have been a person of faith for more than 40 years and, even so, the significance of the season of Lent still confounds me. This might be due in part to the fact that I am Protestant and this holy season arises out of Catholicism.
For those who might not have been reared in the Catholic tradition and in turn “don’t get it” in its classical sense, Lent can be a meaningful season to allow God to take new ground in your crowded life.
“In what ways shall I invite God to assert transformative grace in my everyday life?”
The stated purpose of the season, according to the Catholic tradition, is for the Christian to spiritually prepare for Holy Week by means of personal penance. This often shows itself in “giving up” some luxury or indulgence for the season.
Not being rooted in the Catholic tradition myself, I have come to appropriate the Lent season somewhat differently. I do not so much view it with the mindset of “giving something up” — to suffer because Jesus suffered — but of making room for holiness, even as Jesus embodied holiness during his last days.
There has been one Lenten tradition that I have regularly appropriated over many years. Lent is the only season when hot-crossed buns are available and, out of a desire to sacrifice, I buy them every week during this time.
My weekly grocery budget has no wiggle room and, as a general rule, I would not spend money on an indulgence like hot-crossed buns. It takes conscious will and it pains me, yet I make myself buy them. This gesture is an assertion of trust that God will meet my needs — I bank on it every time I pass hot-crossed buns through the check-out.
Beyond this, Lent can also be a time to rethink old habits and, where necessary, remake them. I have found that success in breaking old habits is more likely when new habits are undertaken in the process.
This involves penetrating that invisible holy space where, for now, certain patterns follow comfortable courses. To displace the sovereignty of these habits, it is necessary to enter this space in the attempt to wrench comfortable courses in a new direction. It involves will, cognition, intention and patience.
In time and with patience and gentle doggedness, these sovereign habits will be turned, but they are stubborn. You will feel taxed by the persistence required to affect meaningful change.
It is helpful to think in terms of inches and to see a victory in every inch. Think of one small thing that you might do differently to put a wedge into the unproductive habit. Find a different place to sit. Change the music you listen to. Use a different internet browser. Set a different time to arise from your bed. All of these, in small ways, will begin to turn the tide and introduce something new.
To give God the chance to be active and faithful in small and practical ways, to defer your sovereignty over your life to His sovereignty over your life — as Jesus did when He prayed “not my will, but Yours” — requires intentionality. Beyond that, it is an assertion of trust as you get out of the way and invite God to do something new in your life. This intention and trust will become the first inroads toward holiness in your life. It will result, in time, with God’s nature overruling yours.
So rather than entertain the question, “What shall I give up for Lent?” ask instead, “In what ways shall I invite God to assert transformative grace in my everyday life?”