I grew up in a traditionally conservative Southern Baptist Church in North Florida (think small town, Lower Alabama, and not the trendy Miami Shore.) I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word Lent during my formative years.
In my first year of college, I remember one of my housemates coming home one afternoon with a smudge of dirt on her forehead. To this day, I’m so grateful I didn’t have the nerve to tell her she had dirt on her face. This was my introduction to Lent, which I thought for many years was strictly a Catholic Church practice.
Once my husband joined the military as a chaplain, my eyes were opened even more to the traditions and practices of other denominations. As I’ve often remarked through the years, while I’m very grateful for my Southern Baptist roots, and for my home church, I’m forever indebted to the military chapel and my friends of many denominations (and faiths) along the way who have broadened my understanding and given me such great appreciation for the reality of what it means to be the Body of Christ.Our military chapel families have blessed us with the best of all worlds; I often say that I like “this” from the Methodists and “this” from the Presbyterians and “that” from the A.M.E. Church and “that” from the Anglicans. I even fondly appreciate and have incorporated several Jewish traditions into our family’s faith practices. My narrow view of Christianity has grown into a much broader understanding of the Body of Christ, hence my tiny view of God has grown into a much bigger understanding of how multi-faceted and out-of-the-box He works. I realize how much more effectively we can bring honor and glory to Him when we unite our traditions and expressions of faith, focusing on our unity in Christ and not the things that divide us.
One of the traditions I’ve learned to appreciate in the past years is the observance of Lent. For me, it is entering into a time set aside on the Church calendar that is intended to focus on repentance and reflection. It’s a personal time to choose a posture of humility and practice spiritual disciplines that sharpen my awareness and dire need for a Savior, namely in Jesus Christ. It’s a time for me to sit silently and often, taking inventory of where I am spiritually and where I want to “set my face.” (Luke 9:51 tells us “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face toward Jerusalem.”)
It’s an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ suffering in a very small sense, never believing I will comprehend the suffering He endured, yet lifting my meager offering up to the Lord. It’s a time for me to ponder what it really means when Jesus asks me as His follower to deny myself and take up my cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34). Lent is a time for me to remember and reflect on His goodness and love. It’s not a legalistic must; rather it’s a grace-filled time of observance.
Although Lent is intended to be a sobering time, I keep in mind what follows is the grandest celebration of them all!