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What is Lent really about?

In just two days, on Ash Wednesday, we’ll begin another Lenten journey with Jesus to the cross.

Heading into Lent always feels somber to me, and this year there’s an added layer of heaviness, because in some ways it feels like last year’s Lent never really ended. The fast we began in Lent 2020—not from chocolate or social medial but from hugs and in person church services and face to face meals with our friends—continues. 

So as we begin Lent 2021, still feeling the weight of last year’s Lent, it feels all the more important to me to revisit what Lent is really about.

Last week I shared with my church family a brief video reflection about the image from Scripture that is helping to shift the balance in me from heaviness to anticipation as we approach Lent. I want to share it with you too:

If you’ve paused to watch it, and have your eyes now fixed on Jesus, please stop reading right here and just keep on looking at him. That’s where life is.

But if you want a glimpse into how I’m approaching Lent in light of all that, this next bit is for you.

Lent is about love.

Lent may be about discipline and giving things up for a time, but it isn’t necessarily. It may be about taking on, for a time, a new practice that helps me see Jesus more clearly and live closer to him: a particular devotional book that leads me back to the cross; centering prayer; a five-minute pause at the end of each day to look back over the day with Jesus, notice his presence, and give thanks.

But at its core, Lent is not about discipline, but about love. This distinction matters because, as Bruce Hindmarsh reminds us in his wonderful little reflection, “[A]bstinence for its own sake only deepens one’s autonomy.”

So as we approach Lent, I’m asking myself this question, “What, these days, is most holding me back from receiving and enjoying Jesus’ love and giving him mine?” And then I’m asking Jesus, “How do you want to be with me in this area? And how do you want to help me be more fully and freely with you?” 

As I walked past snowy fences a couple of days ago, I saw in picture form the distinction between Lent as discipline for its own sake and Lent as intentional love. The neighborhood where I was walking has many walls and fences, most standing tall and straight, a few weak and broken.

My instinct is to assume that every broken fence needs repairing. But as I walked, I realized that Lent is less about repairing all the fences in my life than about walking the fences with Jesus and talking with him about which need to be strengthened and which taken down

Maybe there are some fences that need to be repaired, and Lent can be a great time to work on the process with Jesus. But equally likely, there are some fences that aren’t needed anymore, places Jesus wants to open things up so both he and I can move more freely in my life, loving each other and those around us with more freedom and courage and joy. 

So, my prayer? As we soon begin the journey with Jesus to the cross, may we each be deeply aware of the One with whom we walk, enjoying his presence as, together, we walk deeper into the freedom of love.  


Photo of the cross by Thanti Nguyen on Unsplash

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jenny

    Thank you, Carolyn, for such a meaningful reflection; and wide open invitation into the company of Jesus. You really blessed me today!

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