This is the time of year that some Catholics and Protestants commemorate Lent, a Christian tradition in which one gives up something so that they may instead focus more on Christ and the gift of salvation rather than the distraction they’re giving up.
As I wrote back in 2011, a lot of people miss the point of Lent.
Many choose to see it only as some sort of self-inflicted punishment. Those are people who probably should just bow out of participation, because that point of view is likely enough to guarantee that they won’t get anything out of it, anyway.
The interesting thing about Lent is that it runs roughly 40 days, not counting the Sabbaths, from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. In Latin, the word for 40 was quadraginta. The word quarantine came from the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning “40 days.” During the time of the “black death,” ships coming into certain cities had to wait out a 40-day period of isolation to insure that none in the crew had the plague.
Biblically, periods of 40 days happen at key points of preparation of God’s work. The great flood took 40 days and nights. Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments. The people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb where he received a vision from God took him 40 days. Inhabitants of Nineveh fasted and repented for 40 days following Jonah’s preaching.
And Jesus fasted for 40 days before beginning His ministry.
The close relationship of the words 40 and quarantine is important, because Lent could be considered a self-imposed quarantine from the things that distract us from God.
What kind of things distract you from God? The easy way to answer the question is to ask yourself what you’re spending the most time on when you could be setting aside time for prayer or Bible-reading or some other exercise of your faith. For a lot of us, it’s watching TV or spending time surfing online. For some, it’s too many after-hours spent at the office.
Food items wind up being a popular choice for Lent: people give up things they really enjoy, like chocolate, pizza, meat or soft drinks. I’ve heard of people even giving up coffee, which I consider a terrifying thought. But if you’re not taking the time that you might otherwise spend enjoying those items and filling it with time with God in one way or another, then you’re really not getting from Lent what you could.
If you’re a believer, ask yourself what things keep you from building and nurturing a relationship with God. Then spend this period looking for ways to avoid those things in favor of God. If you search yourself, you may find that you’d be better off reducing time spent in front of a screen (TV, computer, mobile, etc.) in favor of prayer. Or spending less time at the dinner table and more time helping others in some way. Or even cutting your spending on some “luxury” and using those funds to help someone else in need.
If you look at it from the standpoint of what you’re gaining rather than lamenting what you’re doing without, you’re certain to get more out of the experience.