Posts tagged fasting

A season of Lent

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By Olive Tree Staff: Molly Van Ryn

I still remember the first Lent that I was really considered old enough to give something up on my own.  It was jr high, and like just about everything at that age it quickly turned into a contest.  For weeks lunchtime conversations revolved around Lent: who was giving up the hardest thing, who had been successful the longest, who had fallen off the wagon and whether they were going to try again.  Most people gave up some sort of food, like candy or soda.  Some brave souls even went so far as to give up television, to exclamations of “No way!  That’s so hard!  You’ll never make it!”

I don’t remember what I gave up that year, or whether I carried it through until Easter.  But I vividly recall the jockeying for position.  The people who were giving up something that was perceived as more difficult exuded a sense of smug superiority, only to be replaced by people who had picked something easier and stuck with it.  I learned a lot of lessons from that about setting realistic goals, but hardly any about being in relationship with God, or what the season of Lent is actually about.

Since then, my relationship with Lent has evolved.  There was the year that I realized that not all Christians participate in Lent in the way that I always had.  I was just beginning the long journey of understanding how many ways there are to be Christian and starting to take ownership of the path I had chosen.  This was the year that I first did Lent as a conscious choice, instead of just as something that everyone did.  Then there was the year I came to the conclusion that I could add a spiritual discipline to my life, such as a more dedicated time of prayer in my day, instead of picking something to give up.  It was immensely freeing to have this whole other set of options I hadn’t considered before.  It really helped me to focus on the idea that Lent isn’t about getting rid of bad habits, a sort of 40 days of self-help, but an opportunity to grow closer to God and focus on preparing myself for the celebration of His passion.

I look forward to Lent these days.  It’s no longer about picking the most difficult thing I can think of.  I don’t feel particularly comfortable anymore telling people what I’ve chosen to do for a given year, unless I want them to help keep me accountable.  But there is something very meaningful to me in having those 40 days of discipline set aside each year.  It is an annual reminder to evaluate my relationship with God, to dust the cobwebs out of the corners of my prayer life and be mindful of ways in which I am not prepared to receive the gift that was offered on the cross.  It gives me a reason to set aside resources that I might otherwise consider indispensable to the other areas of my life, a boost to drop the excuses I surround myself with.  And I know that there is a community around me, waiting and anticipating as Easter approaches.

Going Without

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From Olive Tree Staff: Christopher Coleman

I have never attended a church which observed Lent, but I did participate in a three week fast several years ago so I understand the benefits that depriving oneself can bring to spiritual health. A few years ago around this time of year I was in a funk. My life was going along just fine, but it felt empty. I didn’t feel the passion for God that I had enjoyed in college. Not that He was distant or I was walking off the path, but there was definitely something missing. So I started asking for advice from One who knows.

I go through phases where I listen to music nearly constantly. I stream Pandora internet radio in the car. I listen to hours of music at a time from dozens of genres in my iTunes library. Even when I am away from electronics, I have a soundtrack playing through my head. I listen to music to connect to this mental playlist. Therefore, I was doubly surprised when after some prayer, I felt that God was leading me to give up secular music for Lent. It seemed like an odd request but I decided to try it. Secular music only made up about 60% of my iTunes library of a few thousand songs at the time, so I had plenty of other options.

Within a week I noticed the difference. It was as if a dense haze that I hadn’t noticed was wafting away on the breeze. I realized I hadn’t been focusing on God daily or even hourly, like I needed to. I had, ever so gradually, been drowning out the Spirit with the secular music I listened to night and day. By replacing country twangs about being a cowboy and irish folk songs about being a sailor with a diverse group of fellow Christians worshiping God in my ears, I was able to worship better myself.

After Easter, I started listening to secular music again, but I have been careful ever since to moderate my intake. I tend to start out my day with hymns while I do my morning devotion, listen to contemporary praise/worship in the car to work and then intersperse my favorite Christian rock bands with my playlists throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes I feel stressed after work and I think that a good hard rock playlist will ease my nerves. But instead, I find myself getting frustrated with drivers on my way home and then becoming distracted when I get there so that I don’t accomplish much. If, instead, I listen to some slow quiet hymns, I can relax for the half hour drive and am ready to tackle my to do list when I get home.

I will always be open to the kind of refocus that Lent give me in the future no matter what season it is. And I will work hard not to forget the lesson I learned from this experience. Whether you observe Lent with your church or not, ask yourself the question: is there anything God would have me give up temporarily so that I can learn moderation and draw closer to Him?

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