In 2010, I observed my first Lenten season. Raised in a small Baptist circle, I truly didn’t know anything about Lent, Ash Wednesday, or any of the church’s traditional pre-Easter observances until I moved to Columbia, Mo. My embarrassment still lingers from years ago when I told a coworker there was something on her face, only to be told it was ash for Ash Wednesday. I’ve done quite a bit of reading and learning since then. Two years ago, I considered observing Lent for the first time when our music leader at church mentioned that he was fasting for Lent. I didn’t want to rush recklessly into such a serious undertaking so I waited until the following year.
2010. I gave up sugar for Lent. That is, I gave up refined sugar and all artificial sugars. I’m sure some sucrose or other derivative may have snuck in due to the nature of processed foods these days, but I did what I could without being legalistic about it. I allowed myself honey and fruit, but that was about all. It was challenging, but I believe that’s the point. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. It wouldn’t lead my thoughts to Jesus and the sacrifice he suffered not only by fasting from all food for 40 days but by giving up his life on the cross. Every time someone offered me a pastry or dessert, it was my reminder that as Christ willingly went to his death, I willingly denied myself the pleasure of the sweet.
From my reading, I discovered a traditional Lenten fast calls for the denial of something (sugar, in my case), but also the addition of something. Last year, I added in daily Bible reading since that had fallen by the wayside some time before. I found myself falling back in love with Scripture. Still am.
The third piece of true Lent observance deals with serving someone else. I fell short in this category last year and hope to do better this year.
So, it’s time. Ash Wednesday is upon us. I’m still working out the details of my Lenten fast this year. Jesus says in the gospels to keep your fast private, for if you receive praise from men that is your reward. I’m not sharing my experience to toot my own horn but to encourage you. I’ve had a reigniting of my passion for God that was kindled in response to my fast in 2010. There are some direct connections that go back to that 40 day period. It’s something I would highly encourage everyone to try. In one way or another, you will come out from it different than when you went in.
What can you do to say, as John Piper puts it, “This much, O Lord, I long for you and the manifestation of your glory in the world”? He goes on to say, “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”
What have you been nibbling on that you should deny yourself of for the next 40 days? Pray about it.