Today begins Lent, the season of preparation, prayer, and penance, leading up to Easter, in the liturgical Church calendar. Lent is the forty days, from Ash Wednesday, today, to Easter. But not included in those forty days are the Sunday. Forty is a significant biblical number, broadly meaning a really long time. It rained for forty days before the great flood. Moses grew up in Egypt for forty years, then lived in the desert for forty years, then led the Israelites for forty years. After being baptized, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days. So the forty days of Lent echoes the symbolism of each of those forty days/years as we prepare for Easter.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, so called because in many churches there is a service to begin Lent, and ashes are placed on each person’s forehead. These ashes serve as a reminder that we are mortal—we were formed from the dust, and we will return to the dust. It is only by the grace, mercy, love, and sacrifice of Jesus that we have an existence beyond our dust. So Lent begins with focusing on our frailty, and looks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the celebration of Easter.
Lent often includes fasting. Fasting is often an outward symbol of inward repentance. As a spiritual discipline, fasting physically reminds me that I am not my own and that I am dependent upon God. Fasting from social media, movies, or radio, or fasting from meat, chocolate, or coffee, are common examples of types of fasting. In Lent it is common to ask, “What are you giving up this Lent?” Lent is a beautiful season of preparing your heart. Taking a season of solemnity and repentance to remind yourself why Jesus died, enhances the joy of remembering the resurrection on Easter. Rather than just another day in our busy lives, we’ve prepared, and I find that I have usually grown through the process.
I didn’t grow up in a particularly liturgical church. We did follow the liturgical church calendar, but we did not have an Ash Wednesday service. My mom had grown up Catholic, and I remember her talking about how they would give something up for Lent. I don’t think it was ever suggested that we follow that tradition, but the idea struck a chord with me, and I often gave up chocolate—my all time favorite food. (And not having chocolate for forty days certainly made that Easter basket full of candy all the more awesome!)
More often than not, as a personal tradition, I’ve given up or fasted from some food for Lent. In humorous juxtaposition to my theology, I enjoy the rhythms of liturgical seasons and the meaning in symbols and traditions. So this year as Lent approached, I looked forward to a structured season of refocusing on Christ and I thought about what I should give up for Lent. I thought about drinking nothing but water, giving up chocolate, and trying to read the entire bible in forty days. Those are great things. I’ve done some variation of them before. But yesterday, I was getting that nudge from the Holy Spirit, and none of that seemed quite right for this year. I’ve been in a season (six months, perhaps three years, depending on how I look at it) where God has been hammering, stressing, bombarding, whispering, shouting, reminding, embracing me with Grace and Rest. Fasting or doing a stringent bible reading program (again, good things) seemed to not fit with what Holy Spirit has been focusing on to teach me. This year, if I gave up eating chocolate for Lent, I’d be feeding my inner Pharisee more than refocusing on Jesus.
So I talked with God about it more. Since it has been a few years since I’ve participated in Lent, and it seems timely to participate again, I wondered what I should give up. Since I’m in a season of Grace and Rest, this year for lent I’m going to give up perfectionism.
Easter is a celebration and remembrance of Jesus’ death and rising again, His conquering of death and sin, and our healed relationship with the Father. His death covers all my sin and I am the beloved daughter of the King. Nothing can change that love. Nothing can separate me from that love.
When I live under the tyranny of perfectionism, I am making my standard for myself higher than God’s. I am creating a separate measure by which I stand or fall—completely separate from Jesus’ standard for me. He says to come as a little child. And I am trying to be a proficient, accomplished adult. Now striving for excellence is a good thing. But it needs to flow out of love, not a necessity to validate one’s self.
So this year for Lent I am giving up perfectionism. What this will look like practically is I am going to attempt to write a blog post every day, except for Sundays, from now until Easter. I need to post something by midnight each day. It does not need to be profound or polished. There will be grammatical and spelling errors. Formatting of posts might be off. There might not be the perfect creative commons photo to go with each post. The posts might not convey some truth that gripped me to the core. I may even miss a day or days. But Jesus died for me and loves me, and this will be an exercise in remembering that. Beginning with this post.
So, what are you giving up?