I’m Joseph, a 60-year-old married YOBBER and father of three adult children who looks forward to a family growing soon. I’m a semi-retired high school teacher of philosophy who still enjoys reading, writing, and interacting with brothers in this YOB community. I’m always active in my Church and local community through volunteer work with Scouts, as a Lector, and wherever I am needed. I enjoy cooking, singing, hiking, and activities with family and friends.
I have entered the season of Lent. We observe Lent in many different ways within the YOB community, depending on our observances to the liturgical calendar and whether our denominations are liturgically focused. Whether you are or aren’t Lent-observant, this season presents an opportunity to deepen our relationships with God and others, especially family and those close to us.
Lent is derived from the Old English term, lencten, meaning “spring season.” In the Romance languages it is more closely associated with the original Latin, Quadragesima, meaning “40 days,” which corresponds to the 40-day period of Lent. Lent is 40 days because Jesus, Moses, and Elijah spent 40 days fasting, and the people of Israel spent 40 years waiting for the Promised Land in the desert.
In fact, the amount of days is more symbolic of a period of purification rather than a strict timeline of fasting. In my family tradition, Lent always coincided with spring cleaning and drinking my grandfather’s traditional purification concoction.
I never really understood the significance and importance of Lent until I was part of a deep, faith-filled community at University. There, I learned that Lent was a time of purification in preparation for Easter: a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
The point of these three Lenten practices is to help me identify, through the struggle of trying to live them more deeply, areas where I need to grow; things I must detach from; and ways to deepen my faith and trust in God, rather than in myself.
In prayer — that is, not reciting rote prayers — I spend actual time with God’s word every day. Time for Him to speak deep in my heart.
Prayer means setting aside time to converse with God and tell the Lord what is weighing me down, as I would a close friend. Lent requires a concerted effort to renew my resolution to spend more time with God, even if it is inconvenient. It takes me away from screens or others distractions, where I meet God in silence.
Fasting is linked to prayer. In order to open up my life to a deeper relationship with God, I have to fast from certain things: television, cell phones, computer screens, food, and drink. This frees both time and space in my life for God.
Fasting from food is part of it, but not all — the distractions in our lives need attention too! Food is a source of joy and pleasure for all of us; abstaining from certain things we enjoy eating, and eating less during Lent, helps us see our selfishness, sinfulness, and limitations. It also reveals our need for God when we fail (more about this later).
The last of the three, almsgiving, focuses on generosity. This is not limited to — but certainly includes — money. Many demands are often placed on my time, especially in our modern society. However, these demands are sometimes unimportant compared to the needs of others.
For example, friends may have asked me out to socialize at a café, but I am aware of a friend or even someone I know who is sick or in need of support. Christ asked us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry (again, not limited to physical hunger), visit those in prison, etcetera. Time and attention are just as important to almsgiving as money and often demand much more of me than sending a cheque to a favorite charity.
The expectations of this Lenten tradition will challenge me to step out of my normal routines and petty selfishness.
It, too, will stretch me to determine how limited my love for others really is; consequently, I once again see my need for God’s grace when I chose to act selfishly. The ultimate purpose of these Lenten practices is to personally reveal the wretched state of my heart as I turn to God.
The original Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means “turning away.” As I try to pray, fast, and give alms, I will, with God’s grace, see myself fail at accomplishing my resolutions. I must turn away from myself and my preoccupations and turn my eyes to Him. Like Paul, the scales will fall from my eyes and leave me open and vulnerable to see my deep need for God’s strength, support, and encouragement through His loving consolation.
Some of us may not fail; in that case, the bar of Lenten expectations was probably set too low. One weakness that I have always had is dessert — particularly cookies and butter tarts, which are mini pecan pies, an Ontario delight. In the past, I always gave up dessert for Lent, including my beloved tarts. It was always a painful struggle for me to get through Lent without binging a few times on some dessert.
Now, I am diabetic and used to not enjoying them. God has a sense of humour.
But the point is that I really had to struggle through Lent, and sometimes I failed. In my failure, my pride was attacked, and I was humbled before the Lord.
Psalm 51 says that “a humble and contrite heart, you (God) will not spurn.” So, brothers, let us embrace Lent as a time to refocus ourselves, shed the unnecessary burdens of unhealthy preoccupations, take a step back to reassess our priorities, and make room for God and others in our lives.
The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are there to help us see where God and others have been squeezed out from our daily lives through our selfish and sinful attitudes. Our forty days in the desert are not taken alone. Christ journeys with us and, with His grace, we will come to see things that must change in our lives.
With the power of the Holy Spirit we will be transformed into His likeness.
Are you observing Lent this year? Do any of these three areas of Lent — prayer, fasting, almsgiving — challenge you or convict you in your relationship with God and others?