I grew up in the Roman Catholic church and every year during the season of Lent, conversation would swirl about what we were giving up. A lot of people gave up food items – chocolate, meat, soda. Adults might have given up things like alcohol or swearing.
As I grew in my faith education, I learned about giving up things that would help me make roomfor Christ in my life. I could give up an hour of television to study scripture or a book on a Christian topic. I could give up complaining and be a more positive person to be a better example of Christian love. These are still great ideas!
Now that I’ve been a church “professional” for several years, I’ve learned some history about our calendar and how the traditions of seasons like Lent and Advent came to be. Both Lent and Advent were seasons of fastingbefore major holidays. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, and Advent is the 40 days before - you guessed it - Epiphany. If someone reminds me in December, I’ll write another whole post about why it isn’t Christmas. Historically speaking, these 40 day fasts were meant to temper our “worldly desires.”
But we treat the seasons of Advent and Lent very differently. During Advent, we mark off our calendars; in some traditions we go as far as opening little doors to reveal daily treats. What a contrast to the idea of fasting we think of for Lent. We spend the season of Advent anticipating the joy of Christmas. The tradition of fasting, while it gives us opportunities to open ourselves to Christ, can sometimes have the unintended consequence of drawing our focus to our own suffering.
So what if we thought of Lent more like Advent? The eager anticipation. The joy of preparing ourselves, not for new birth, but new life in the resurrection. As we watch the flowers coming back to life, we can be grateful that Christ’s resurrection means we can stand before God, free of our sin. Yes, we can still make room for God in our lives, and we can do it out of the joy gratitude that we have already been saved through Grace, not by our own deeds and suffering.