My sons and I like to build Lego projects together. My 7-year-old is into big projects that are intricate and involved—the more pieces, the bigger the accomplishment. My 2-year-old is more into abstract Lego art—a few blocks here and a few there, and boom, it’s a lion, a sword, or whatever you can imagine. But one thing they both enjoy is building a tower, and seeing how high it can get before all the pieces crash to the floor. And inevitably, they do crash. They might not even get the chance to topple on their own because my 2-year-old Soren really enjoys playing the part of a human wrecking ball!
We all spend time constructing lives that are precarious at times. Learning to balance all the layers we pile up throughout the year is like another job. Lent is a season, as I like to say, for addition, subtraction, and introspection. At first glance, Lent seems dark and depressing but I would like to suggest that Lent is a gift, a gift from God to his Church. It’s a gift because it’s a designated time for us to reflect on our lives, giving us space and time to deconstruct the towers we have built, because we all know that if we just keep piling on the layers, they’re bound to crumble, we are bound to crumble.
As we inspect our lives, we give up some of those layers that are distracting us. We might fast from things like meat or sweets, so that in our hunger we will remember we were created to hunger for God. In our desire, we remember that our only satisfaction is found in God. I always hope that some of what I give up will be gone for good, while others things will return and, with God’s grace, be rightly ordered in my life.
While it’s a time of subtraction, Lent is also a time for addition. It’s common to add things like extra time in prayer and scripture study, extra time serving the poor and financially giving to those in need. These additional spiritual disciplines are not supposed to be just another Lego on the every growing tower of our lives. Rather, they are the very things that free us to be with God and not so consumed with ourselves. Adding disciplines during Lent allows God to mold and shape us further into the likeness of his Son.
His son, Jesus. Ever hear that you must begin with the end in mind? I guess there is something to it. Lent is, maybe most importantly, 40 days of preparation for Easter. So yea, Lent is all about Jesus. We start our Lenten journeys with the story of entering into the wilderness with Jesus (Mark 1:12) and end it by participating in his resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our utter dependence upon him. After all, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, reminds us we are dust and to dust we shall return.
During Lent, then, all we do is a reminder that Jesus is our only hope for the abundant life. He is the one who has entered into our desperate situation and become our hope. That hope of the resurrection is a foundational part of the Christian life. Lent culminates with Easter Sunday, the feast of all feasts for the Christian, and on that day, we celebrate the saving work of Jesus, who has risen, conquering sin and death. Ultimately, the season of Lent is the gift we have been given so that our hearts and minds might be ready to participate in this feast.
Life is hard; it’s full of distractions and busyness, difficulty and temptation. Those of us in ministry know this personally. And we all know students and families who we are keenly aware of this as well. What I’ve found to be one of the most powerful parts of Lent is the space it creates to slow down, evaluate life, confess that it’s hard and full of temptation, subtract some layers that are draining and distracting from Jesus, then add some things that will connect and cultivate my relationship with Jesus and the abundant life he so wants to give. Lent is a gift. This year, I hope we will all take advantage of this gift for ourselves and for our ministries, I hope we will journey together into a Holy Lent.
Erik Willits is the author of our lenten devotional. To learn more or purchase copies of Lent, click here.