I grew up Catholic. Like really Catholic. Not Latin mass Catholic, but go-to-church every Sunday no matter where you are in the world Catholic. Want to go on a trip somewhere but you won’t be able to make it to mass on Sunday, then you “can’t go Catholic.”
Looking back at my parent’s devotion to “the church” through a more mature, 40-something lens I can appreciate their commitment to practicing their faith. As a child I found it frustrating. I also found that when I reached young adulthood what I had was a relationship with a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.
When I became a born again believer it was hard for my parents. It was especially hard on my mom. I’m putting words in her mouth now (sorry mom), but I remember feeling that she was disappointed in me when she found out I had chosen to be baptized as an adult. I think she saw it as a betrayal against their decision to baptize me as a Catholic when they adopted me as an infant.
I saw it very differently.
And not just baptism… lots of things.
Maybe you were raised in a faith tradition that you no longer practice? So maybe you understand the difficult and uncomfortable feeling it can be to break with a longstanding tradition? The way it can cause jagged little edges in your relationships with those still practicing in that faith.
One of the traditions I left behind when I chose to build a relationship with Jesus outside of the Catholic tradition was Lent.
Growing up, in a faithful Catholic home, the season of Lent (like Advent) was marked and observed. We always went to church for Ash Wednesday and had our foreheads marked with ashes. We never ate meat on Fridays, went to Stations of the Cross services and placed palms from Palm Sunday mass behind crucifixes that always included Jesus’ body hanging on the cross.
It wasn’t until I started attending a non-denominational Christian church that I understood that “Christian crosses” don’t have the body of Jesus because he’s not on the cross anymore… He is Risen!
But this year, I’m trying something new-ish. For the first time in more than 20 years, I am making an active effort to observe Lent through prayer and fasting. I am going to make a concerted effort to pray daily with specificity and I am going to try to give up sugar for the next 40 days.
I’m not going to be perfect at it. In fact, I’m pretty sure there will come a day between now and Easter when I completely forget and find myself with a mouthful of some tasty treat. But then I will remember I live in grace because of what Jesus did for me on the cross and I will try again.
And this attempt to observe Lent is not about crossing something off the list or being “religious,” it is about wanting to get closer to Jesus. Prayer and fasting are two ways to do that.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I’ve never fasted, intentionally. So this is going to be new for me. I’m not sure when and exactly how I’ll do it – but I am going to be intentional about not eating added sugar. So no bites of chocolate for an afternoon snack. No ice cream on the couch before bed.
And I’m going to pray intentionally with specificity.
I’ve decided to pray about three things for the next 40 days:
These aren’t groundbreaking, world changing prayers. They’re very specific and intentional for my life. And I believe God wants us to be specific and intentional.
There’s a reason we have a Christmas season, to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior. And there’s a reason we have a Lenten season, to remind our hearts of what Christ did for us on the cross.
I don’t know how or if you are observing Lent this year. I don’t know if you are carrying the weight of past traditions or have been able to unburden yourself from religious ceremonies you didn’t understand or feel connected to. What I do know is that Jesus loves you. He died for you. He isn’t on the cross. He is Risen! And in this season of Lent as we are one step closer every day to celebrating the Resurrection, remember with me that before he shattered sin and the grave, he paid the price we never could have paid. He endured the pain and suffering in love. For you.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
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