We are about to enter the season of Lent.
Lent runs from March 1 (Ash Wednesday) to April 13th, the day before Good Friday. Lent is kicked off with Ash Wednesday (a practice going back to the 5th Century). You know, that day when many Christians (mostly Catholic, Anglican and Mainline Protestant) put ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross and then go to work and bear the cross for the rest of the day. Lent developed early on in the Christian calendar as the time of preparation before new disciples of Jesus were baptized at Easter.
There are different stereotypes of Lent floating around the Anabaptist-Evangelical world. Some say it’s unnecessarily dreary or it’s a celebration of an annual guilt-fest that somehow helps people feel like they are working off their sins. Anabaptist-Evangelicals in these modern times can tend to be a bit uncomfortable embracing the darker sides of human experience that Lent tends to surface—so we tend to downplay seasons like Lent.
Thankfully, our BIC family has been working a bit to reorient our understanding of Lent.
Lent is a season, not of dreary guilt-fests or weirdo self -punishment. If Lent was originally about preparing for baptismal vows, then Lent is about preparing ourselves for the hope of Easter. But for hope and Easter to have any meaning, it means we have to embrace and acknowledge those aspects of ourselves that we’d rather avoid.
Lent introduces us to various hopeful spiritual practices but they don’t feel hopeful at first glance. Fasting from social media, avoiding certain food, abstaining from sarcasm or alcohol doesn’t immediately fill us with warm and fuzzy feelings of Jesus-inspired hope. Lent also challenges us towards spiritually formative practices like meditation, contemplation and centering prayer. These are the practices of sitting in the thoughts, attitudes and internal narratives we’d rather avoid, so that we can find in Christ the healing and hope we are starving for.
The world is starving for hope.
Hope gets us out of bed in the morning. Hope is why we save money, have kids, visit an online dating site, or even go to the dentist.
Our culture is always telling us a story about how to have hope or keep hope alive. And this story is so pervasive that it tends to seep unaware into our bones. The story goes like this, “Discipline yourselves, work real hard, defer gratification, stay busy, be positive, and the things you want to happen in your life will eventually happen. Hard work plus positivity and good choices equals hope.” The other side of the same coin says, “Don’t overthink things, don’t set your hopes too high. Life is messy; keep your head down and grind on. Protect your heart from disappointment by not having too high hopes and this equals hope (kind of).”
Neither story will get us the kind of hope we are hungry for. We want hope without brokenness. We want hope without the risk of being let down. Can we have hope without the possibility of pain and discomfort?
Can we have Easter without Good Friday?
There is no Easter without Good Friday! Lent is about embracing the broken reality in this world and, maybe, in our hearts. This messy reality is the pathway to Easter hope in Christ. But there’s a catch: we have to practice hope! Practicing hope means we can’t avoid those things in our lives that threaten our hope.
Through different spiritual practices over Lent, we actually have the chance to face the things in us we’d rather avoid and find ways to recycle it into Christian hope. A theologian has said, “We don’t think ourselves into new ways of living; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” Hope has to be practiced in order for us to lace our thoughts with Christian hope. Let’s be honest, the problems in our world can overwhelm. However, Christ told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
As Darrell Winger says, “For Christians the best is always yet to come.” That’s Christian hope.
What will you do this Lenten season to practice hope, even if you aren’t feeling it?
– Written by Jon Hand, Director of Pastoral & Leadership Development at BIC Canada