By Bob Wolniak
(InterVarsity staff member supported by Meadowbrook Church)
To say the least, it is ironic for me to be writing about Lent! Growing up unchurched and then joining various evangelical circles that ignored church traditions and church calendars, I didn’t take the role of Lent seriously. It wasn’t talked about much in my household, and I even scoffed at Lent with my perceptions of self-abrogation for religious gain, meatless Fridays, and carnal pleasures celebrated during Mardi Gras.
But the way our culture views religious holidays and the intentions faithful Christians originally had for them are two different things. With the diversity of students and staff coming from different church traditions to InterVarsity, it was inevitable. I was introduced by a friend to a Lenten devotional guide leading up to Easter a number of years back. From it, I gained a completely different perspective concerning the season. We may sometimes talk glibly about repentance in Christian circles, but true behavior change takes time, devotion, and discipline. Lent can be such a time as this.
Since then, I have utilized a number of resources to mark this as a special time of the year devoted to repentance. A helpful image for me has been the putting off and putting on exhortations by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians. I see Lent not as a duty but an opportunity, a decision to invest anew in my relationship with God in a tangible way. It's not about earning favor from God but growing closer to Him. This is the original intent of Lent in the Christian calendar.
Now during Lent, I take time to set aside habits that may pull me away from God, and take actions that draw me intentionally closer to Him. The apostle doesn’t merely list “do nots” in his letters. He exhorts us to remove certain habits, akin to changing clothes. For example, this year, I am embracing the 30 Day Whole Food Challenge because I tend to make unhealthy eating choices, and I need to repent of that behavior. Hence, I put off poor eating habits and put on new ones. This practice, combined with my devotions, makes what I hope will be a season of real repentance as opposed to a mere token or short term resolution.
There are many Lenten devotionals out there in print or online. I have also been drawn to Lenten Lamentations (https://lentenlamentations.org/), which is helping me to be more attuned to injustices in our society and God’s heart for those suffering injustice. Instead of withdrawing from this reality, I’m trying to hear and embrace stories different from my own in our mosaic kingdom of God.