When I was growing up, my church did not participate in Lent. As far as I could tell, first we shopped for Christmas, then we shopped for Easter. I still knew what Lent was because I had friends who gave up Coca-Cola, or ice cream, or, most notably, "listening to The Beatles because that is a huge sacrifice for me," my friend, Liz, told me with complete sincerity. Honestly, I didn't understand the point of Lent. Jesus obviously suffered, but does my giving up chocolate for 40 days really mimic that suffering and strengthen my empathy muscles?
I did start practicing Lent when my husband, Chris, and I joined an Episcopal church soon after we got married. "Hey!" I thought, "Here's a diet I won't cheat on because I'm literally vowing to Almighty God that I won't eat dessert!" Yeah, I was still not grasping Lent's significance or spiritual value. Also, I should be honest here and note that I've never, not ever, lost weight on a Lenten diet. It's like God is saying, "Lose weight on your own time, Baby Girl."
What is the purpose of Lent? Why go through what Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann called the "bright sadness" of the Easter season?
I think that Lent cleanses the palate, so to speak. Things that have been so important, that rule our schedules, wallets, stomachs, and attention span we put on hiatus. It's a reminder that we need to be in charge of our passions, not the other way around. This shedding of stuff clarifies my mind and helps me to prepare for the Easter celebration in a deeper and more meaningful way than just shopping for another holiday. When we practice spiritual discipline during Lent, we focus on God more and on distractions less.
Shannon Dove has attended South Main for eight years. She teaches preschool, and she adores people, especially her family, Chris, Jonah, and Sam. Shannon thinks Lent is hard but looks forward to it every year.