26.2.20

Let's talk Lent.

Today marks the first day of Lent, the 40 day season preceding Easter Sunday. A completely optional exercise that was never commanded in Scripture, isn't practiced in most Evangelical churches, and won't at all make you a better Christian if you take part - and I love it. The liturgical calendar is something I've become reacquainted with in recent years and has been a great encouragement to my faith and the way I disciple my children. 


I want to make one thing excruciatingly clear as I have great fear of this post creating a burden or obligation among you, dear readers. It is that God won't love you more or less if you participate in Lent or abstain from Lent or any "church calendar" activities. With that said, would you permit me to share why I've grown to love these liturgical seasons so much? I'll start at the beginning.

I didn't grow up celebrating Lent. In high school I heard about people giving up chocolate or TV for Lent, but it was more of a fun exercise in will power than anything spiritual. As a new Christian I began to see Christmas and Easter with completely different eyes; eyes of worship, expectation and deeper beauty than a bunny or gift-laden tree could ever conjure, yet still the holidays snuck up on me year after year. In university I was writing exams until right before both major Christian holidays and once I had children life felt so full that I never seemed to arrive "ready" to celebrate with a full heart the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If you ever feel that tension when the holidays roll around, where you're glad for the four day weekend and time with family but your heart isn't quite prepared to worship then you understand exactly how I've felt in years past. Celebrating Advent and Lent have essentially freed me from those experiences and prepared my heart to celebrate in spirit and in truth. I've written a lot about Advent, so here I'll focus on Lent.

Lent gives Christians a concentrated season for grieving our sin and reflecting on the brokenness in our world that necessitated the cross. Life is hard and we are all sinners and sinned against. I believe taking the time to focus on this, to grieve and mourn what we've done and what has been done to us is incredibly meaningful and healthy. Lent is by nature a heavy season. If Advent stirs our hearts for an upcoming birth, Lent grieves our hearts for an approaching death - one that we played a role in causing - and it's right and good to feel sadness, regret, and grief. But we know our grief will end in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, so there's always a limit to our grief that allows us to grieve with hope and not give in to despair. Some people choose to give up something during this season to share in the sufferings of Christ, to fast or challenge themselves in some way. I don't typically give up something for Lent, because I'm wary of my tendency to be legalistic (Enneagram 1 over here!), but I strongly encourage anyone who is giving up something for Lent to be sure to also add something in it's place that will fill up your affections for Jesus. Example: If you're giving up social media, add reading Scripture. The way I choose to practice Lent is not simply depriving myself of any one thing but truly orienting my heart towards Jesus and the Gospel. 

How are we practicing Lent this year? 

Pancake Tuesday + Explaining Lent

This is the first year I'm walking my kids through Lent though I've done it myself in recent years. We started last night with a big pancake supper feast which made our hearts merry, and then we transitioned into a time of reflection and confession. On the way home from school we had talked about the difference between Advent and Lent - Advent being an anticipatory celebration of an upcoming birth and Lent being a grieving season of an approaching death, lined with the precious hope of Resurrection Sunday. 

Confession + Forgiveness

After explaining the differences and answering any of their questions, I lead us in a time of confession. Simply admitting some of my sins from the day to my family. After each person repented of something, the family would respond, "your sins are forgiven!" It was such a sweet time. I don't know that we'll do this every day of Lent, but it represents the theme of Lent and how we'll be aiming to observe it. Grieving the wrong we've done and the wrong done to us, thanking Jesus for his forgiveness, and encouraging one another that all of those sins were nailed to the cross. The kids also wrote out or drew some of their sins which we put in a jar and lit the jar on fire (don't worry, we quickly moved the jar out onto our balcony - we were safe!)  The kids absolutely loved this and encouraged one another that "it feels so good to repent!" 

Scripture + Song

Like Advent, I'd like to be extra intentional this Lent about reading scripture daily with the kids and singing a hymn each night. We always have morning devotions and often sing praise songs in the car, but for Lent the songs and scripture will be focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday particularly. Our hymn list includes Jesus Paid it All, There is a Fountain, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Hallelujah! What a Saviour! and on the last week of Lent, Christ the Lord is Risen Today

For scripture reading I'd recommend some Old Testament prophecies of Jesus death (Isaiah 53 being a beautiful example), the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death (Mark 15 being my favourite), or any part of the Bible you find pointing you to Jesus paying the price for sin. I may change halfway through Lent this year, but we'll start out with Romans 5:12-15

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[a] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent. With the ashes we made in burning up our confessions last night, we had a fresh jar of ashes with which to put small crosses on our hands this morning at breakfast. I got this idea from Asheritah Ciuciu on Monica Swanson's Boy Mom Podcast. The kids found it really moving  - honestly at ages 6, 8, and 9, they were absolutely able to understand that those ashes were a symbol of forgiven sin. I wish I'd started this years ago with them! Kids really are able to understand so much more than we often give them credit for, and symbolic activities like this help them learn and understand. I know some people put an ash cross on their forehead, so this is a version of that. Traditionally the ashes come from burned up palm branches used from the previous year's Palm Sunday, but ash from burned up confessions to sins we know are forgiven felt pretty beautiful too. 



Objections to Lent 

There is good reason why many Evangelicals do not practice the liturgical calendar, and I understand those objections. One common objection is that the Bible doesn't teach Advent or Lent, and the first recorded occurrences of these is usually between 300 and 600 AD, meaning even the very early church didn't practice Lent, so why should we? I absolutely agree that it's not necessary or required for Christians, but that doesn't mean there isn't wisdom in it. Lent uses common, everyday aspects of the Christian life (repentance, confession, reading scripture, fasting, prayer, song) in a simple, repetitive way leading up to the most important days in our calendar year and allows us to approach Easter prepared, in heart and mind to worship the risen Lord. Not at all necessary, but absolutely helpful for many people. 

Another objection is that fasting (giving up something) for Lent can create legalism and I totally agree with this! You know your heart - are you prone to legalism and spiritual performance? Maybe avoid fasting and focus on feasting on the gospel. Are you in a season of life where you're making bad decisions that are leading you away from Jesus and you need more self control? Then maybe regular fasting from all manner of things would be good for you! The purpose is to create grief around our sin and hope and joy in the resurrection, not to tick off any spiritual boxes. 

Where I am, in Quebec, Lent is seen very much as a Catholic practice, and if you know any of the history of our province, you'll know that there is a great degree of mistrust and bitterness towards the Catholic church for past abuses of power as recent as the 1960's when virtually all of Quebec was Catholic. Here it's rare to find a Protestant who wants anything to do with the liturgical calendar because there's a great desire to distance themselves from Catholicism, but many Protestant denominations have historically observed the "church calendar" including Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Lutherns, and regardless of your affiliation, you may find it a helpful practice. 

Simple + Meaningful

As I've said over and over again for Advent, Lent can be simple and meaningful. I know you're busy - me too. Our life is full and I'm not necessarily looking for things to add to our schedule, but done simply, Lent doesn't need to take much planning or time to be meaningful. Take your eyes off of perfection and onto a few easy practices that you can guide your family through to prepare your hearts for Easter. It can be singing one Easter-themed hymn each day. Reciting the same cross-centred Bible verse every night before bed. Creating an environment of confession and repentance in your home by humbling leading by example. Asheritah Ciuciu has a lot of great activities and crafts on her website and in her book, if you're looking for more ideas. 

I hope this was helpful, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments or over on Instagram. 

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