If I asked you to think of an over-commercialized holiday or event, Christmas would probably be the first to come to mind. American culture has made Christmas about having the best food, toys, decorations, and gifts, while its true meaning has lost its way for many people.
Another is Valentine’s Day. Jewelers spend millions and millions of dollars in the weeks leading to it to convince men that women need diamonds to feel loved.
But what about Lent? As a junior high and high school student, I had many friends and classmates who were Catholic and went to mass every week, so I would always hear them talking about what they were giving up for Lent. It was almost always food: red meat, chicken, chocolate, or soda (or, “pop” as it is called in Ohio). The major fast food chains begin relentlessly advertising their fish sandwichesat this time of year because they know they can capitalize on a culture that loves fast food but temporarily can’t eat burgers.
I couldn’t help pondering the significance of it all as an outsider (my Baptist church didn’t really practice Lent). What was the point of giving up one type of food for forty days? Why was it forty days instead of thirty? Why were Catholics the only group I knew of that participated? Wasn’t trading burgers for fish sandwiches just a technicality? Did any of it really bring anyone closer to God?
But Lent isn’t really about giving up a specific food or item. It’s a time that is meant to bring us closer to God by mirroring Jesus’s forty-day fast in the wilderness. We participate in Lent at this time of the year because it is just before we celebrate Easter. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, and it ends on what is called Maundy Thursday. By participating in Lent, we prepare our hearts for the following day – Good Friday.
So, how can we participate in Lent in a way that is meaningful and brings us closer to God? The first key is to pray. We’re instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5 to pray without ceasing, and Lent is a perfect time to focus on praying even more than we normally do. In fact, we can begin praying about Lent in the days and weeks leading up to it to have God reveal to us how he wants us to participate.
Lent is not simply about stopping something for 40 days, counting them down so that you can have chocolate or play Fortniteagain. Make it a means to bring you closer to God by laying something down that blocks you from being with him. It could be food – but for most people it’s probably the need to be on our phones checking Instagram, the news, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. It might be a video game. It might be the type of music you listen to or the amount of TV you watch.
A group called eMarketer recently released a study that indicates Americans now spend 12 hours a day consuming mediavia smart device, computer, TV, audio, and print. That’s 84 hours per week – enough time for two full-time jobs! What would life be like if we prayed and were in God’s word that frequently?
Think about your habits and the ways in which you spend your free time. Consider the ways you multitask – the audio you listen to at work or in the car, or the social media scrolling during dinner or playtime with your kids.
Be willing to remove those habits from your routine and replace them with prayer and scripture, and prepare for your heart to be changed. You may find yourself permanently closer to Jesus and no longer needing those old habits after the 40 days are up.
This year, Lent begins on March 6 and ends on April 18.
By Josh Smith.