Lent: Trapped or Transformed

Lent & Easter at St. Paul's
By Jenny Andison

Posted on February 7, 2013

"What are you giving up for Lent?" - this question strikes fear into my heart because I always seem to have a lame answer.  

I am not sure any of you really want me to give up caffeine or chocolate for Lent. I am not convinced that being crabby and irritable for 40 days is going to make me a better follower of Jesus. I am not convinced that Lent needs to always be about giving things up - which I freely admit may sound like I am simply trying to get out of a very small sacrifice, but hear me out.

Lent is an ancient tradition of the church, a 40 day period of spiritual preparation to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. And while I believe it is an important and healthy tradition, we must be careful not to fall into a "religious" trap. What do I mean by that?

 Well, our hearts are hardwired to turn to "religion" - to think that if we obey enough rules, or do enough "good" things, God will love and accept us, and by extension give us a happy life. Unfortunately, painful experiences show us how "religion" will always let us down.

The gospel tells us, instead, that we are already accepted and loved by God (because of what Jesus has done for us), and that as our hearts are changed by this knowledge, we will desire to please and obey God. But religious traditions and rules may seem easier to understand and implement than applying the truth of the gospel to our lives. We can grasp rules. It is far easier to tell kids to obey rules than to explain to them why they should desire to act rightly. They then end up following the rules simply because the rules exist. When it comes to Lent we often do the same - denying ourselves something for the sake of denial. And we end up missing the point.

Lent is about transformation. Transformation is about letting ourselves be filled with God's presence so that we can be shaped by the truth of the gospel. Our acts of denial - denying ourselves in order to empty ourselves enough to allow God to fill us - are a means to an end. They are disciplines that prepare us to be transformed by His grace.

I am tentative in suggesting what disciplines people should follow during Lent to open themselves up to God's transforming power as they may simply fill you with more of you.

So - let's avoid the "religious" trap and not simply deny ourselves things for the sake of denial, for the sake of "obeying the Lenten rules". Let's ask ourselves the HARDER question - what can I do to allow God to transform me this season?