Many Christians see the 40 days of Lent as an excuse to go on a diet, stop cussing, lose a few pounds, and overall, become a better person by giving up a bad habit or dietary selection. Don’t get me wrong – dropping cigarettes, gossip columns, and/or fatty foods are healthy choices – but they’re not what Lent is about. I used to be one of these people who gave something up for Lent “because everyone else did.” There are plenty of options: some websites even suggest some options of things to give up that may “make you holier,” including giving up negativity (which is actually a somewhat compelling idea).
The day I realized I had been missing the entire point of Lent was last year on Ash Wednesday during my graduate school program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I was sitting at my desk in the downtown newsroom when I saw several of my classmates wandering around with dark smudges on their foreheads. At first I thought I was caught in the middle of a Harry Potter conspiracy, but then I realized it was in fact Ash Wednesday, and most of the smudges were in the shape of a cross. I did some research, and found out that many Catholic students in my program honored tradition by going to a church either in the morning or during lunch hour and being marked with the sign of a cross with dust.
The dust on their foreheads came from the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday that had been burned to commemorate this year’s Lenten season, in honor of the following Scripture:
“For dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)
I carried this stark reminder with me throughout the year, and find myself at the beginning of another Lenten season this year – only this time, I’m going to be intentional about the reason for the season. I’m going to focus on fostering spiritual disciplines, starting with going through a Lenten devotional guide suggested by my friend and guest blogger Eric Rubio, and adding something to my lifestyle instead of taking something something away: an increased focus on Jesus in everything I do.
What are you giving up or adding to your life this Lenten season?