Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” NIV
Tonight I went to Ash Wednesday service at our church. This is a new thing for me. In the religion I was raised in, we didn’t practice any symbolic gestures of faith such as ash Wednesday or lent. I have been learning about the meaning of all of the things that go with this time of year. For example, I learned that Lent basically means spring. It’s the season of the year that we celebrate the time when Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before His crucifixion. Ash Wednesday is the start of the lent season. There are 40 days until Easter, not counting the Sundays our pastor said. I haven’t a calendar in front of me but I am assuming he is correct in his countdown. The ashes are put on your forehead in the shape of a cross. It is to remind you that you should repent of your sins and always be mindful that from dust you came and to dust you shall return.
Many people give up something during the 40 days of Lent. I have heard the phrase “giving it up for lent” my entire life but I never understood what it meant. During the 40 days that Christ was in the desert, He fasted. So giving something up during the Lent season is in similitude of the fasting that Christ went through. It would be very difficult for most people to fast for 40 days and 40 nights.
Honestly, I have trouble fasting for even a day. The minute you tell me I can’t eat, I think I am starving. I skip meals with no trouble at all until you tell me I can’t have the meal. Then I am ready to gnaw your leg off because i am so hungry. Or at least that what my brain tells me. Youngest daughter decided to give up fast food for Lent and asked me to join her. No big deal I told myself. I’m a not a big fast food fan anyway. Do you know how many fast food places there are on any given major thoroughfare? I will have you know there are 12 just from my church to the highway. 12. I counted them. Suddenly I am totally craving a frosty from Wendy’s or a burrito from Taco Bell! My mouth was watering on the way home as I thought about all the food choices I was passing up. Now mind you, I pass these places all the time and never think twice about them. But because I am now going to go 40 days without fast food, it’s all I can think about.
Giving up something like fast food or chocolate or meat for 40 days seems pretty trivial when compared with what Christ gave up for us. Our Abba does not expect us to make this time a public spectacle about our fasting and prayers. We aren’t supposed to tear our clothes and cover our faces with ashes (thank goodness!) like the people of the old testament. He expects us to ponder and pray about the symbolism that comes with giving something up for Lent. Each day of these next 40 days, it is a chance to come to a deeper understanding of what was given up on our behalf. It is also to remind us not to fall prey to temptation. Christ endured much temptation while in the desert but He held strong to His Father’s will. It will be so tempting to just give in, once or twice. I mean really! Who would even know. And I suppose that is the point. The thing you give up for Lent isn’t shouted to the world. It’s in your heart. And your Abba knows the desires of your heart. He will help you make it through. I am praying for you as I know you are praying for me. Together we can show our Abba that His purpose is our purpose. I know we can be strong together.
Just as a final thought, we did come up with some basic rules for fast food. Pizza is not fast food. It’s fast food if they throw it through the car window in a bag. If it has french fries as a side, it is fast food. A milkshake is still fast food. Ice cream is not fast food if it is made on a marble slab. Popcorn at the movie theatre is not fast food. And if we have to leave to drive to North Carolina to see my son come home from Afghanistan, we will put it on hold because it’s very hard to have 6 people in the car and not have to stop for fast food at least once on the two day out/two day back drive. Because food from the gas station is still fast food.