My first memory related to Lent is planning what to “give up” for Lent. Every year in the Spring, Lent would arrive, and during our Sunday School teacher would ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Many of us would say chocolate or candy or something like that. To be honest, if you put a bowl of chocolate in front of me, it will sit there forever. If it were a bowl of chips or nuts, that would be a very different story; they would be gone within minutes. So giving up chocolate was not a challenge for me. Even though I grew up in a church that talked about Lent, I did not learn about it until God called me to study it much later.
Lent is the six-week church season before Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday. While this is 46 days, Sundays are excluded from the requirements, so Lent lasts 40 days. Maundy Thursday is the day we remember the Last Supper. Lent is a season to reflect on God, to fast (give something up), and to serve.
Different denominations have different traditions related to Lent. Ash Wednesday is a day when many denominations have a service. Before that service, they burn the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday as well as needles from the advent wreath that was hung to dry after Epiphany. In Catholic and Lutheran traditions, the priest or pastor places the sign of the cross on the forehead of the believers using the ashes. Most Protestant denominations do not use the ashes to mark people, but many do have a service to mark the start of this time of
reflection, fasting, and service.
We are to reflect on the attributes of God and His faithfulness. Jesus fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), at the end of which Satan tempted Him three times, Jesus quoted Scripture to rebuke Satan. We need to reflect on Scripture, memorize it, and hide it in our hearts. Giving up food or activities to spend more time with God before Easter reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice, death, and resurrection. He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.
We should fast during Lent to help us focus on praying and spending time with God. Our fasts can be a complete fast for a day, a partial fast, or a fast from something you love (i.e., nuts, not chocolate, for me). Fasting means giving up something to replace it with prayer. So if I am not eating all day, I stop and pray when my stomach rumbles. I sip water then I continue to pray. The key to any fast is prayer. Discomfort and longing can be reminders to pray.
The third part of Lent is service. When I fast for a day, I put the money I might spend to eat out for that day into a jar. Yes, I assume I am eating out all three meals. At the end of Lent, I will donate all that money to a food kitchen or a homeless shelter. If my fast is from something I love, I place a sealed container on the counter. Then, every time I look longingly or reach for it, I put money into the jar. When my kids were little, they LOVED catching me looking at the container. And yes, the item in question has to be sealed because I am weak. If I do a partial fast, such as giving up meat, then the cost of the meat goes into the jar.
This act of service worked for me until my friend challenged me to put my feet to my service. She said, “Why not serve at a soup kitchen when you are fasting? That way, you can feel what the people you serve may feel daily.” Ouch! But she was right. Sometimes we go serve, and other times we start preparing for service projects in other states or countries. The key is to serve.
Lent ends on Maundy Thursday, which marks when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. On Good
Friday, many people fast and pray to remember Christ’s death and resurrection. Holy Saturday, or Easter Vigil, is a somber day to reflect and meditate on Christ’s triumph over death and Hell. Easter celebrates His resurrection and victory over sin and the grave.
I have so many memories of Lent, yet I am still learning how to embrace it. Each year I learn more about Lent and God as I focus more on Him and His attributes. Even with all I’ve learned, I still struggle with distractions like military move cycles that draw me into concentrating on worldly issues rather than reflection, fasting, and service. What have you learned about Lent?
What are your favorite Lent traditions? Let us know in the comments below!
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Jennifer Wake is the 2023 AFI Fort Belvoir Spouse of the Year. She is an Army wife, mother of 3 grown children, teacher, and writer. She is a chemistry/physics teacher by trade, an Accredited Financial Counselor by interest, and a writer/speaker of God’s Word by His calling. God has called her to mentor military spouses, especially chaplain spouses who serve sacrificially. Her passions include writing books and blogs, developing Bible training material, networking with women in the military, and professional quilting. She resides in Springfield, VA, with her wonderful husband, and dog and enjoys her quilting room.