Welcome to Lent which begins Ash Wednesday (Feb. 10). The textbook definition of this season includes fasting, and penitence for our sins, abstinence from those things that seem to bring us joy in life. It is the period of forty weekdays before Easter commemorating Christ fasting in the wilderness for forty days and dealing with temptation.
In those churches that practice the liturgical year, with seasons like Advent and Lent and Ordinary time (don’t ask), it can become old hat. Those churches which don’t practice Lent may only know it’s upon us because their friends say they are “fasting Facebook” or “can’t eat chocolate.” Or, perhaps they wonder why their neighbors have dirty (ashy) foreheads one February night. And some persons have negative reactions to the season, viewing it as the time of year when preachers try to make them feel bad for all the things they’ve done or haven’t done. (BTW, that’s “sins of commission” and “sins of omission”).
And, with all the talk of sin and and giving up stuff we actually enjoy (but which may be getting in the way of faith) and Jesus being tempted and the build-up to the cross, Lent can get a little heavy. And, perhaps we’ll think this is all about making us feel bad.
Contrition and penitence are not bad things. Giving up things for God is not a bad thing. Focusing on Christ’s cross is not a bad thing. The gospel writers gave it a lot of ink for good reason.
We don’t need to feel bad about Lent. We can (and should) feel good about it. This season provides a counter-narrative to our feel-good culture. It provides a space for us turn over our lives to God in a new way — even if, in the grand scheme of things, some of those ways seem small. The whole point of “feeling bad” about our sin is so that we can fully appreciate the grace of Christ or even receive it into our lives for the first time. And without the cross we would never get to Easter morning–and we don’t want to miss that.
So, I encourage you to have yourself a Holy Lent. Perhaps you should talk to someone (God? Your pastor? A spiritual friend?) about the sin in your life and confess it. Perhaps you should find something that would be good for you to give up for 40 days, not “just because” but because it puts you in solidarity with Christ’s suffering and can provide space in your life for God to work. Perhaps you should take a look at Christ’s service for you and find a way to serve others.
And, perhaps, don’t feel bad about it. Feel good because these Lenten practices enable God to do God’s good work in you…maybe in a new way.