Put a Little Lent in Your Life

“Hey, Granny. You’ve got something on your forehead,” my youngest brother harassed in our family’s typical snarky tone. My Granny just smiled at him and stuck out her tongue. She was just as feisty as the rest of us. The whole exchange was unusual. Not because of the sarcastic banter, but because my 78-year old, chain-smoking Granny who had both Prince and Barry Manilow in her tape deck had ashes on her forehead. Her name was Lola and while she wasn’t a showgirl, she wasn’t a saint either. In that moment so many years ago seeing my Granny with an ashen glow mystified me. As she held her stubborn ground in the midst of the mockery, something in her eyes glistened. She glowed. My Granny found Jesus.

At the time I didn’t understand (or believe for that matter) it was even possible for her to be in love with Jesus. I hoped, but it didn’t seem likely. What’s even more difficult to admit is that when I hoped, I assumed she had to do it my way—that she had to come to Jesus on my terms, in my church tradition.

I grew up in a Restoration Movement church and I work in a Restoration Movement church. We didn’t grow up celebrating Lent or Advent or reciting creeds or practicing liturgy. We knew the Bible and if it’s not in the Bible, it wasn’t a part of our church experience. That day in my momma’s kitchen with my sassy brother teasing my Granny with the light in her eyes, I felt like I might have missed something. What would change in me if I participated in Lent? What if I was the one with dirt on my face? Would I have that glow like my Granny? Would it breathe life into my lungs that I was so desperate to find?

So, I decided to find out. Prior to my grandmother’s plunge into practicing Lent, I’ll admit most of what I had heard or seen of the season seemed a bit laughable.  Those who I knew who participated would give up things I judged they shouldn’t be doing anyway. My understanding that once Lent was over, their intent was to pick up the behavior right where they left off. I knew fish sandwiches would suddenly appear on the menu at McDonald’s and other fast food chains, but I really didn’t know why. 

At the time, I was in seminary so did what I knew to do. I studied. I dug into why my church tradition had left this practice behind. I discovered the mystery of the alignment of Lent and Advent with the ancient Hebrew festivals. The new knowledge didn’t explain this mystery. The mystery was what my Granny discovered. She knew. I still didn’t get it. Knowledge wasn’t enough. I wanted to participate in the mystery.

In 2011 I put a little Lent in my life. I practiced Lent for the very first time. I wanted my celebration of the resurrection at Easter to be different. I wanted to be different. I wanted that glow like Granny. My husband, Matt, and I gave up television for Lent. It’s a first world sacrifice, I know. But it changed us. The mystery of what happened in our home and in our hearts still astounds me. A peace settled in our home. A tiny door in our hearts ushered it in.

Lent moves us to experience the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. The season allows us to mine for deeper treasure. By choosing to sacrifice something—either through fasting from it or by making the sacrifice of time to put on a new practice—we make way for the Holy Spirit to transform us.

While my Granny is now with Jesus during this Lenten season, my gratitude for her still swells in my chest. Her dirty forehead launched many changes in both my thinking and my practices. She introduced me to the mystery. My hope is to glow like her. 

I’d love to hear about your Lent experience.

Do you participate in Lent? If so, what are you sacrificing or what practice are you putting on? What has been your experience of Lent in the past? 

If you are in the Indianapolis area and are looking for a place to participate in Lent, The Creek will be hosting services during Lent on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm. You can find more information here. 

If you are a church leader and are interested in the journey of our church toward Lent, you can read this article in The Christian Standard by my colleague, Jason Yeatts. 

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