Three reasons why I observe Lent

3 Reasons to Observe LentSome dismiss Lent as a Catholic tradition, irrelevant to those practicing a Protestant faith.

They deem it a meaningless ritual and wave off the idea, claiming that observing this season on the church calendar is unnecessary or even trivial.

I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve made a practice of observing Lent for nearly all of my life as a follower of Christ. The way I’ve participated in it has varied from year to year: sometimes I have fasted from a favorite food for the duration, other times I’ve abstained from all food for one day each week. Still other years I’ve taken a less traditional approach and banished TV or social media, or added a daily spiritual discipline. But each year my heart’s intentions remain the same. Here are just three of the reasons I find observing Lent — in whatever fashion — a meaningful and worthwhile practice.

To prepare my heart for Easter.

December whips by in a harried frenzy and I often find myself spiritually unprepared to appreciate and savor the birth of our Lord. Although the days leading up to Easter aren’t as cluttered with commercial trappings as they are at Christmas, I find that observing Lent sensitizes me again to the profound gift offered to me on the cross at Calvary. The weight of the crucifixion and the hope of the resurrection. The soil of my heart is cultivated to receive this truth afresh as I tune my heart to it through Lent. I see Him more clearly through less-rosy lenses. And if there’s anything I want, it’s to see Him and know Him better.

To appreciate the sacrifice and cultivate gratitude.

The practice of fasting, in any form, reacquaints me with sacrifice. My abstention from chocolate for six weeks (for example) will never compare with the death of God’s own Son. I wouldn’t pretend it could. But even voluntarily forgoing such a comparably insignificant item (of any kind) drives me back to the cross in appreciation for His sacrifice. The absence of whatever it is I’ve surrendered is a practical yet spiritual tool to remind myself of all He has done for me. I am much more quickly given to thanksgiving during my daily prayer and throughout the whole of my days during Lent.

To identify with the Body for which He was broken.

As a Christian in the modern American church, I have been trained in the doctrine that Jesus died for my sins. Indeed, He did. Our God is personal; He made us each and knows us intimately. Yet our culture of “rugged individualism” has infiltrated the church and too often we apply promises made to God’s people corporately to ourselves as individuals. (Check out the context behind Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28, which I also wrote about here.) The purpose of the Body, and the Church, is to glorify God. I read passages like Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:9,10, Colossians 3:14-16 and Acts 20:28 and I see how profoundly God wants us to be knit together, building one another up and bringing Him glory together. No, we shouldn’t draw attention to our fasting for the purposes of garnering adulation from others (Matthew 6:16-18). I think there’s a big difference between making a show of our good works and participating in them together for His glory. By observing Lent in the context of community, I have found a deeper awareness of, and greater love for, the Body, the Bride, the Church.

So, yes, I observe Lent. For these reasons and more.

When I peel back the outer layers of ritual, I find Him there.

Please share!
    • Ellen Landreth

      Never had anyone explain it like this before. The only people I really knew that did Lent talked about it rather flippantly, like doing it somehow made them more “right with God.” Or it was just something they had to do. I used to work with a elderly lady from Spain. I would ask her about her beliefs, like Lent or whatever they did. Her answer was always “I dunno, I dunno, it’s just the relig.” But I love it the way you are saying it–give up something–that matters and each time you do without you are caused to remember why you are giving it up–to remember Christ. I’ll have to ponder this some more.

      • Kirsten

        Thanks, Ellen, for sharing your perspective, too. Would love to hear if you end up putting something into practice for Lent — stop back by to let me know!

    • Hester Christensen

      This is great Kirsten! Thank you for sharing your heart . . . ;) I appreciate how you approached this — May I ask what you are fasting from this year? ;)

      Love, Hester
      ps. just curious, ;)

      • Kirsten

        Hester, I’m doing seven different fasts this year during the course of Lent, all spurred by Jen Hatmaker’s book 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. How about you — what are you doing (if anything)?

    • Ava

      Yes. Great post… great food for thought.

      • Kirsten

        Thanks, Ava!

    • Debbie

      Thanks Kirsten, as always, well spoken. I’ve been observing Lent in some way or another for about a decade. I used to use it more as a will power tool to help me habituate something in my life, but with a little encouragement from great people like you, I came to understand more of the meaning behind the sacrifice. Probably my most impressionable Lent season was when my family joined me in fasting from any “out to eat” occasions. Especially during our busy baseball/softball season, it truly was a sacrifice. I’ve tried to encourage my kids to be mindful of the season as well and maybe instead of taking something away, add something beneficial into their lives, maybe for just a week at a time. Little chunks seems to work well. Thanks again for your leadership, Kirsten.

      • Kirsten

        Great example of another way to fast, Debbie. The same thought occurred to me last night when our evening’s requirements put us in a revolving door. I quickly reverted to eating out for convenience. One gal doing the 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess book group with me this Lent is taking the proceeds of fasting one meal a week to donate. I’ll bet you saved a lot of money that year!

    • Heather

      Thank you for reflecting on the corporate (as well as individual) nature of salvation. To come together with the Body of Christ in Lenten observance calls us to a deeper sense of community and oneness.

      • Kirsten

        Welcome, Heather! So glad you joined us to read along — as part of this community and the larger one of the Body. I hope you’ll be back!

    • Mary

      Great post Kirsten! I have observed Lent my entire life, but each year gain a new and different appreciation for it. The ritual has always been there for me, but only with age have I really come to see the value of the 3 Catholic “Lent pillars” of fasting, prayer and alms for the poor. I loved exploring it more with your views. :)

      • Kirsten

        Ritual is only empty if we let it be, right Mary? God instituted ritual (i.e. Leviticus) as a means to know Him. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Jennifer Dandrea

      As a cradle Catholic I’ve always been taught that we do a few things – for God – during Lent. We abstain from eating meat on Fridays, we ‘give up’ something we love for 40 days and we always make it to a reconciliation service (for absolution) before Easter. I’ve done these 3 things for as long as I can remember. And I still continue to do them, a little differently now, but for a different reason. I’ve known OF and ABOUT Christ all of my life, and I followed what I’d been taught, but not until I began learning about him and having others teach me about him did I truly understand the ‘why’ of these things during Lent. Today I KNOW my Lord and I love him and truly want to serve him. And HE knows and loves me. And my small sacrifice – whatever it may be during Lent – is done for his glory!
      With friends (and spiritual leaders) like you Kirsten, I have joined in your community of Jen Hatmaker’s fasts for 7 weeks. And I am praying that I will say (your last line) from my heart, that …’by observing Lent in the context of community, I have found a deeper awareness of, and greater love for, the Body, the Bride, the Church.’

      • Kirsten

        That you know HIM instead of just ABOUT Him is exactly the goal of our faith — and all the practices around it. I love your perspective!

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    • Angela Allington via Facebook

      Yes! 💗