Today marks the second day of the Lenten season, one of the beautiful sacred rhythms of the Christian faith. But you probably wouldn't know that from looking at social media.
Our culture has co-opted Lent for its own purposes, and it's really trendy right now for everyone to be giving up something - like chocolate or sugar or, as has become popular in recent years, social media - or to be taking up something new - like running or charity, as though this is all that Lent is about. As though this is what the church had in mind when it instituted the practice of recentering its faith so many hundreds of years ago.
Let's be clear about something: Jesus did not come so that you would stop eating carbs.
Nor did He come for you to be miserable and to spend 40 days vocalizing your terrible temptation to break your fast or your promise.
Lent is not about proving yourself faithful by living in your self-imposed prison for forty days, crying out from behind your own bars, then refusing tiny drinks of grace. Lent is not about making yourself somehow noble; you're no such thing.
Lent is about getting rid of those things that keep you from Jesus, those things that stand in the way of your faithfulness, those things that make your life less than life abundant, which is found only in Christ.
Which means that if you're using Lent to lessen your life, you're doing it wrong. Lent is a season of "lesson"ing your life, falling back into the sacred rhythms and teaching yourself anew the importance of the glory of God, which is so easy to all but forget between Palm Sunday and Fat Tuesday.
Lent is not about making yourself poorer; it's about making your life richer. It's not about making your plate smaller; it's about making your portion heartier. Lent is not about denying good things; it's about denying yourself.
Take up your Cross and follow Him to Easter.
And that's what the world's celebration of Lent doesn't understand. That's what they're missing. They don't get that this whole Lent thing doesn't end at a candy hunt; it ends at an empty tomb. It doesn't hold its breath for bunnies; it gasps at the Cross. When these forty days are said and done, the world will take a collective sigh, wipe its brow, and say, "Phew! I'm glad that's over," and then they will go back to life as it always was.
But for the Christian, when these forty days are done, they will know these words: It is finished. And life will never be the same.
I think it's wonderful that the world wants to join us in our practice of Lent, that it takes the time to recognize one of our sacred rhythms and even that it is willing to call it by our name for it. But let's be clear - what the world calls Lent and what the Christian does are two dramatically different things, and we have to be very mindful about how we engage in this practice, lest we let the world define it for us. Lest we find ourselves thinking that maybe that sounds like a good idea. Lest we find ourselves taking this sacred season of humility, repentance, grief, recommitment, self-denial, and atonement and make it about something so much less.