The Three Pillars of Lent
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Last year I took on the task of writing a blog for Lent, posting everyday (except Sundays) for the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. While it proved to be extremely difficult--especially to come up with 40 unique topics--I have decided to take up the task again this year. I ask that you will pray the Lord to guide me in this endeavor for His glory.
I love Lent. That may sound odd being that it is a time of solemn penance and sacrifice, but it is my second favorite time of year after Advent. Of course the seasons of Lent and Advent are very different-- Lent being a somber time and Advent being a celebratory time. Advent is so joyful and colorful and some might even say magical, filled with beautiful lights, uplifting songs, the sounds of jingling bells and excited children. Lent on the other hand is sad, gloomy, and dark. Yet Lent offers a wonderful opportunity to reorient ourselves to the true purpose and fulfillment in our lives--loving and serving God.
It is so easy to get distracted by our busy lives between work, the kids' baseball practice, cleaning the house, making supper, mowing the yard, getting homework done, and the million other things we need or want to do. Even church can become a distraction from God when we get so busy with the various church activities that we can't focus on Him. Lent is an opportunity to pause the madness of life and refocus on our Lord and Savior. That is what I love about it!
The way to do this, to step out of our busy work focused, kid focused or self focused lives and focus more on God is through the three pillars of Lent. Those pillars are fasting, prayer, and alms giving.
Fasting is the part of Lent most people think about when they hear the word. Type "Lent" into a search engine and you will see article after article about giving things up for Lent. Fasting allows us to make a sacrifice for God (however small) as well as perform a penance for our many sins and offenses. The early church started an intense fast on Good Friday and fasted until Easter Sunday. Today we have extended the fast for 40 days (the amount of time of Jesus' fast in the wilderness). Catholics and some Anglicans fast by eating only one meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday while abstaining from eating flesh meat on those two days, as well as every other Friday during Lent. Of course for most Catholics and participating Anglicans this is the bare minimum. We are also expected to give up something in addition. Like with most Protestants, this has traditionally been a favorite food, or decadent delight such as dessert, alcohol or harmful additions such as smoking. More recently with the advent of social media people have begun to give up Facebook or similar things. The beauty of this online fasting is that it also gives us more time for the second pillar of Lent--Prayer.
Lent is not just about giving things up. To reorient ourselves to God requires greatly increased prayer. This is perhaps much more difficult than fasting in today's busy modern life. However, it is much more important. How are we going to become closer to God and reorient our lives toward Him without spending time with Him. Reflecting on our need to pray more also offers us a chance for self-examination, because if we do not want to spend time with God, then we clearly do not love Him. But we also cannot fall in love Him without spending time with Him. Thus prayer is of the utmost importance. And do not feel like you have to do all the talking during prayer. Often times it is much better to sit silently and listen.
The third pillar of Lent is almsgiving. Normally when we think of almsgiving we think of giving money to the poor and this is certainly one way to give alms. However, alms do not have to take the form of money. We give alms whenever we perform any work of charity or justice toward our fellow man. So beyond giving up something, and spending more time with God, we also need to be more charitable and loving to others this Lent.
Most Holy Lord, please help me spend this Lenten season reorienting my life toward You, Your greatness and Your glory. Help me to love you with my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole soul. And please help me to love my fellow man as myself. Amen.
R.C. VanLandingham is the author of the Christian fantasy novel Peter Puckett & The Amulet of Eternity. He lives in Florida with his beautiful wife and three wonderful boys.