This morning I flipped the calendar up to March 1st and my eyes fell instantly on the inscription for today – “Ash Wednesday.” It caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting it so soon, and yet here it was – the reminder that in 40 days, we’ll be celebrating the greatest display of love the world has ever seen.
I thought about Lent and my inconsistent observance of it. Since I grew up in churches that didn’t officially celebrate Lent, it’s been a personal choice of mine to participate in it the past few years. But the two times that I have officially chosen to fast those 40 days prior to Easter – to give up something of meaning and significance in my life – have been profoundly impacting. Those 40 days were long and sometimes painful – but they revealed a deeper closeness to God that I desperately needed.
This year I thought about what I could give up and nothing came quickly to mind. Nothing felt pressing and urgent that I needed to step away from. So I thought, maybe I won’t do it this year. Maybe I’ll be fine without it. Maybe it’s not that important.
As if there were ever a time when I didn’t need to fast. What a foolish heart I have …
And as Ann Voskamp said in her beautiful and convicting blog post today –
“The People of the Cross repent of loving our agendas more – instead of interrupting our agendas because we love Jesus most.
“We repent of loving You, Lord, so little because we have loved ourselves too much.”
The words cut straight to my heart. God doesn’t need my fasting to make Him happy – but I need my fasting more than anything to make my heart happy in Him.
And it came to me this afternoon in the most unexpected of ways.
I came home from school with a raging headache, dropped all my bundles down, and picked up the rent and bills to take down to the landlord’s office. And as I walked down there, the chilly March air nipping at my nose, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t been on a walk through the neighborhood in such a long time. Just a leisurely walk – just me, breathing in the surroundings, the air, the trees, becoming alive to life again.
So I dropped off the mail, tucked my keys in my pocket, and just kept walking. I walked away from the stress of the long day, away from my phone, away from all the evening responsibilities – and I walked down streets lined with frozen snow piled in neighbors’ yards, noticing everything around me. And as I did, my mind began to realize how important this was – not just the walk and the fresh air, but this time to uninterruptedly commune with my Savior.
As the prayers formed, I began to remember who I was in Christ – and the majestic beauty of the One whom I serve and who holds all my problems in His hands.
It was soul-renewal time, the time to meditate on the grueling walk to Calvary that Christ took for me.
And then I knew what my Lenten fast needed to be – this, the sacrifice of a mere 20-30 minutes a day away from all the rest of life to walk and pray and meditate and remember the road to Calvary. I almost felt like it was cheating a bit, because I felt like it was less of a “taking out” of something in my life and more of a “putting in.” But anything we put in takes the place of something else there, and for me, that means committing to leaving school every day right at 3:30 or 3:45 (save for the days when I have meetings) to make this prayer walk a priority. It’s choosing not to let work or the idle waste of time right after school take over, but instead honoring God with this time just for Him.
And within that, Ann Voskamp has a lovely [free] 40-day Lent devotional that has daily prompts for fasting and repentance that I hope to meditate on and put into practice during this time as well. For example, today’s reads:
“By Grace, today I will fast from the arrogance that my repentance was a one-time event when I first came to the Cross, when in reality, repentance is a continual event for those who never leave the power of the Cross. Today I will have the courage to face my sin and own it, because I look into the face of Christ and He owns me, cleanses me, and remakes me. We repent of ever thinking there would be revival without repentance, of thinking You would heal our land without us getting down on our knees.”
It’s truth I need to hear, truth I need to sear into my brain – a brain that makes excuses, that claims tiredness too often, a brain that needs a daily reminder of her Savior’s sacrifice for her soul.
Commitment to a fast is a scary thing, because I instantly think of all the ways I might fail at it. Yes, there will probably be days when I don’t hold to it. But there is grace for even that – grace for the times when life prevents it from happening. And I pray for the discipline and strength I need to make it a priority so that my faith might be fired into purer gold.
This is not about me proving my perfection and my holiness. This is about a broken sinner needing a 40-day reminder to repent and refresh her soul. This is about “soul-stice” times with God, retreating from the rest of the world for 20-30 minutes a day. And in those times, allowing myself to be made more into His likeness and His image.
I couldn’t possibly need it any more than I do right now.
Praise Him for His loving grace.