Some of us approach the season of Lent with trepidation. We aren’t sure what it means for us. We aren’t sure how to talk about it with friends and co-workers. We aren’t sure how to explain it to our children and grandchildren. We know it has something to do with giving something up. But why? We would rather just get to the feel-good season of Easter and the hope of the resurrection. When we feel this way we miss the gifts that the season of Lent has to offer us: the gifts of prayer, almsgiving and fasting as ways to reconnect and rededicate ourselves to a Christian identity that is grounded in relationship.
The Gift of Prayer (Relationship with God)
John Wesley once wrote, “All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.” As you enter into the Lenten season take the opportunity to reflect on how your life is a prayer to God. How does this idea impact how you treat friends, co-workers or strangers? How does this impact how you treat yourself? When passing this idea on to children and youth consider how you can draw their attention to moments in their day that may not at first seem like a holy expression of prayer. For example, when you see a child playing in the dirt, thank God for the gift of the earth, for the good weather that allows the child to be outside, for the joy that child is feeling. And then invite the child to say her/his own words of thanks.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34-40 give us a clear picture of how we are to treat “the least of these.” But sometimes the weight of the world’s needs can be overwhelming. Use the season of Lent as an opportunity to focus on how you can address one of those needs (use the gift of prayer in your discernment process!). And when you’ve made your decision begin to build relationships with those who are committed to addressing the need and with those who are experiencing the need. Change happens when we allow those affected to lead us to the solution. Jesus didn’t say “I was sick and you donated money to the hospital,” he said “I was sick and you visited me.” This is not to say that financial support is not crucial to eradicating social ills; but the kingdom of God is built on relationships. Similarly, when a child makes a commitment to a particular cause look for opportunities to help that child cultivate relationships within the cause.
Fasting is the most well-known of the Lenten practices. Some give up a tangible item (ex: meat or chocolate), some give up a bad habit (ex: gossip or smoking), and some seek to add (ex: purchase one item per day for the Other Bank). You know better than anyone what you need to turn away from in order to live your life as a prayer to God. So before making a decision on what you will give up, spend time with the gift of prayer. Once you have decided, consider how this fast can be used to support your almsgiving efforts. For example, if you focus your almsgiving on water rights, then your fast may be to use less water in your daily life. Teach this process of prayer/reflection à action to your children and young people as it will benefit them not only in the Lenten season but in their lives as choice-makers.