Lent: It's Not Just for Belly Buttons
I want to begin this post by playing a quick game of word associations, I hope you don't mind. In case you don't know how word associations work let me tell you, I am going to say (or actually type a word) and I want you to say the first word that comes to mind when you hear it (you can even respond in the comment section if you'd like). Ready? Then here goes.
There are a lot of different ways you could respond to these 4 words. The word Christian could describe a faith system, a denomination, or even some guy you know named "Christian." The word church can bring good memories to the forefront--remembering potluck lunches, or inspiring services--or it can bring out negative feelings, like judgment and persecution. The word Baptist can do the same thing.
But the word I'm the most curious about is the last one: Lent. A few decades ago my first response probably would have involved the stuff I occasionally pull from my belly button or the stuff that gets stuck in the corners of your front jeans pockets. (Of course, that is lint, not Lent--but that's beside the point). More recently, I may have thought about Catholic churches and special Ash Wednesday services, you know the only time of year it's acceptable to leave dirt on your forehead...any other time your mom would be licking that finger and rubbing it off.
But the longer I spend in ministry, the more I have come to appreciate this season, the season of Lent as being more than a Catholic church tradition. Rather the season of Lent is a tradition that all Christians can benefit from. In case you do not know, Lent is a solemn and penitential* season, where all Christians are encouraged to reflect on the climatic events of Holy Week, and journey alongside Jesus to the cross.
So why do I, a Baptist minister, appreciate the season of Lent so much? The season of Lent reminds me of a side of God and Jesus that is vitally important to our faith, even though we rarely discuss it. Most of the time, our faith is a joyous and celebratory kind of thing. We see this from the prayers that we pray, to the music that we sing, to the sermons that we hear, and even to the friendly smiles and handshakes we give and receive at church (at least until a pandemic changed all that). But we all know that life is not always a joyous and celebratory kind of thing.
There are times in life where we get beaten down by the world we live in, and once we are down it's not uncommon to get kicked repeatedly. There are times when we lose loved ones. There are times when we struggle to make ends meet, or even to find a job. There are times when our refrigerators are empty and we are unsure where our next meal will come from. There are times when we get sick, from the run-of-the-mill cold to deadly diseases like cancer. There are times when our friends betray us or when they desert us. There are simply times when we suffer through the worst that our world can offer.
Lent reminds us that God knows these times well. God is not just a God of joyous celebration, God is a God who knows the depths of sorrow, suffering, and pain. Jesus knows what it's like to be beaten down by the world and to get kicked repeatedly while he is already down. Jesus knows the pain of loss, the uncertainty of difficult financial times, the pangs of hunger, the sting of illness and disease, the isolation of betrayal and abandonment.
I need to know this aspect of God. I need to know that when I am journeying through the deepest and darkest times of my life, that I am not alone--that God is there empathizing with me, walking beside me all the way. This is why I appreciate the season of Lent. This is why I firmly believe that Lent is not just for belly buttons or Catholics anymore--Lent is something that we all need to help us in our faith.
*To avoid using too churchy language, allow me to explain solemn and penitential. Solemn refers to the serious nature of the season and that it is an important time for Christians as we reflect on the life and death of Jesus. Penitential refers to the fact that no one is perfect, we are all flawed and make mistakes--but God is without flaws and is perfect--therefore when we come before God, we need to be sorry for our mistakes and flaws.