For many years I taught Sunday school with a lovely woman named Mrs.“O”. Mrs.“O” was devoted to teaching children for almost fifty years. As Christian Ed Director I could always count on her; Mrs. “O” never missed a Sunday.
Each year for Lent, Mrs.“O” would eat nothing but fruits and vegetables, hard core, no fancy vegetarian dishes just plain old fruits and veggies, raw. I knew she did not salt or butter her vegetables because I was very intrigued and asked many questions about her Lenten quest.
Each year I would try to follow her example, not because I wanted to fast for Lent but because she would lose an incredible amount of weight! I was not motivated by sacrifice, I was motivated by vanity, and I never stuck to it.
This has always been my problem with giving anything up for Lent, it is usually focused around weight loss and vanity. It never worked for me because it was never an authentic sacrifice.
Without fail, I would see Mrs.“O” the Sunday following Ash Wednesday and report my failure to her. “How do you get through the hunger?” I would ask “I pray,” was always her reply.
Mrs.“O” understood Lent far better than I did, she was not doing it to lose weight. She did it to
enrich her prayer life and draw closer to God.
As someone who never practiced Catholicism (baptized only) and was raised in protestant churches which did not observe Lent, I had to learn about Lent on my own.
It is only in the 20th Century that protestants have observed Lent. Lent was traditionally a Catholic observance which began in the 11th Century. Lent is not biblical, but like Advent it is a time for spiritual reflection.
I learned Lent can also be a time for us to focus on the places we may be falling short. It is a time to focus on our sin. If we think we are without sin, then we may be selling ourselves short, we may not realize how much potential we have. This is not about shaming ourselves or beating ourselves up, the world does enough of that. For me, Lent is summed up well in Song of Solomon 2:15, which says, “it is the little foxes which spoil the vineyard.” It is the little things which over time can interfere with our potential, things like staying up too late, watching too much TV, being quick to anger, negative self-talk, talking too much, interrupting; these are just a few of my “little foxes.”
Our ability to look at our shortcomings gives us a chance to be transformed. When we have moved past a bad habit or shortcoming, and share our victory with another we also aid in transforming others. When we get better, those around us get better too!