By Jessica McDougald
For years, Lent, to me, was a second chance at my new year’s resolutions which had generally been long abandoned. Having grown up in the Baptist church, not much had been taught about Lent. I only knew that some people decided to give up eating chocolate for a little while. I dutifully hopped on board the giving-stuff-up train and I was usually successful for about three days, at least.
When I began my theological education, however, I began to learn that Lent was more than just giving stuff up for a few weeks. But since I still didn’t understand 100%, I just kind of skipped over the whole Lenten season.
But last year I took a spiritual formation class in which we read a book by Marjorie S. Thompson called Soul Feast. In this book was a small section on Lent. Thompson wrote:
“[Lent] represent[s] a return to the ‘fast’ that Adam and Eve broke: a life in which God was once more center and source and the material world was again received as a means of communion with God.”
This explanation of the Lenten season really clicked with me. God had in mind for humanity a different way of living, lost to us because of human sinfulness, and Lent is the time during which we try to get back to the way of life that God envisioned for us.
Bearing this in mind, last year I successfully “fasted” from all social media for the entirety of Lent. When I looked at my habits and practices, I saw an unhealthy reliance on the approval of strangers and acquaintances by means of Facebook and Instagram. When I imagine what God has envisioned for my life, what I see is not someone who is tied to her phone all the time, desperate for the attention and approval of others, but someone who faces outward and upward and who finds her worth in what God says about her, rather than in what the world says.
When the true meaning of Lent is put into perspective, when it is about more than just optics and vanity and tradition, we see that the Lenten season is a gift from God rather than, simply, a trivial period of self-deprivation.
My prayer for you, this Lenten season, is that you’ll have the courage and capacity to identify the place or places in your life that differ from the life God envisions for you. I pray that you are able to see where you’ve traded the Garden of Eden for a poor attempt at creating your own paradise. And I pray that you are empowered to lay that before God and allow yourself to be unburdened this Lenten season.
Jessica McDougald is Minister to Youth at Millbrook Baptist Church and a CBF Leadership Scholar attending Campbell University Divinity School. She lives in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband and daughters Camille and Margot.