I love this time of year but not for the normal reasons. Lent, the 46 days leading up to Easter, is not a time of gift-giving or lavish partying. It’s not even a time for chocolate bunnies or Cadbury eggs—these don’t come until Easter morning. And the weather is typically dreary. Chilly and wet as winter tries to hang on in the tug-of-war that spring is eventually sure to win.

Lent is somber.

It’s a season for reflecting on the cross. A season to get better acquainted with the limitations of our humanity. To remember how much we need Jesus in the big things out of our control and in the smaller moments when our patience is simply fraying. It’s a time for pruning, for stripping away. The good news is that these are not ends in themselves. Lent is so that more fruit will eventually come to bear.

Twenty years ago, I sat in the office of a Christian counselor who guided me along the paths of Lent. He explained it was a time to set aside some of our normal pleasures so that something new could grow in its place. It was this “new thing growing” that caught my attention. I needed new. I was stuck. My friendships weren’t healthy, my work success or lack thereof was controlling my emotions, I didn’t know how to cultivate joy. Cutting something fun out of my life seemed a terrible idea rather than an antidote. But I agreed. Reluctantly.

I’ve never looked back.

That year I set aside some things that had held power over me. But I didn’t stop there. My counselor helped me fill that newly created space with intentional practices that focused on my relationship with Jesus. I paused longer to reflect in God’s Word, journaled, took prayer walks, talked to friends about what God was teaching me, showing me. As I did, the roots of my faith pushed deeper into richer soil. It’s dark down there, by the way. I didn’t enjoy every moment underground dealing with my attachments, my neediness, my sin. Some moments were agonizingly lonely. But God was doing a resurrection work the likes of which can only happen underneath the ground. Or behind an immoveable stone.

The other day I was talking to my friend about the cumulative effects of seasons of fasting. Each Lenten year seems to build on the next. She told me that some of the things that used to be so hard for her to lay down she doesn’t even think about anymore. Those time-consumers, those unyielding habits, she no longer has use for them. I get it. What makes this a double-win is practicing Lent not only helps us rid ourselves of the detrimental or unnecessary, but that time is redeemed for what matters. Life-giving practices now grow out of the same soil whose nutrients used to be spent on the frivolous. Lent helps us steward the soil God’s given us.

I’m reading through the back half of Mark as Easter approaches (Mark slows way down after Peter’s confession of Him in chapter 8. From there, it’s a slow walk to the cross). It keeps me intentionally focused on Jesus and His road to the cross and ultimately His resurrection. One of the most meaningful parts to me is when the disciples are arguing about who’s the greatest. We do this today, by the way—we just may not discuss it out loud and in plain daylight. Anyhow, Jesus sat down, which I assume meant He sat His disciples down too. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all,” He said (Mark 9:35). I don’t think He could have laid it out there any clearer. To be great is to serve. To be high is to be humble. To be first is to put the needs of others ahead of our own. The Lenten season helps us practice this. As we die a little more to our comforts and addictions and obsessions, we make more room for Christ to pour His life through us.

We’re a little less than three weeks to Easter. The brunches, baskets, and bunnies will be there. In the meantime, what new thing needs to grow? Jesus, help us follow you as we walk toward Easter. Prune back what is sucking the nutrients out of us. Strip away what is not of you. Fill us with your Spirit. And on Easter morning, we will celebrate that you have made, and are making, all things new.


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