Growing up in a Roman Catholic household meant the season of Lent was taken very seriously. Lent begins forty-six days before Easter and is marked by the sombre ceremony of Ash Wednesday. The Ash Wednesday ceremony involves placing ashes on one’s forehead as a reminder that we were made from dust and that we will one day return to dust. From that moment until the Easter celebration, people are called to reflect on their own sin and how they have fallen short of God’s expectations of them.
Along with this sombre period of reflection, a personal sacrifice is often performed. This usually consists of giving up something one cherishes, a small but noteworthy effort that points to Jesus’ even greater sacrifice. This year I’ll be giving up Chocolate for Lent. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that whenever I make coffee at home, I substitute a spoon of sugar with a spoon of Chocolate powder, you realize that it’s a significant part of my daily routine. It’s such a part of who I am that it will be a big enough challenge not to automatically open the cupboard and reach for the Nestlé’s Quick canister.
Sacrificing something for Lent might seem a little bit over the top, and I’ll admit, sometimes I wonder if it’s too much, but it always boils down to one word for me: discipline. Discipline is a rigid practice; it’s also a way of making amends for having blown it. As a human being, I know I’ve made countless mistakes without realizing it. None of them might seem huge, but they are still sins, still ways I’ve let God down. Easter is all about God’s grace and mercy and Christ’s self-sacrifice that allows for our forgiveness. So, for me to prepare for understanding and celebrating that gift fully, Lent is discipline I take seriously. It’s a time fo reflect on my part in Christ’s crucifixion, and to make a sacrifice that helps me to be more disciplined in my prayerful pondering on God’s great love for me despite my shortcomings.
This practice of sacrifice and reflection isn’t for everybody. If you weren’t raised in a household that practices Lent faithfully, it might be hard to understand, but the underlying discipline of prayer and calling oneself to account should be straightforward. As people of faith that believe Jesus died for our sins, it’s important to remember that we continue to sin and that we must continually seek God’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s help to do better. For me, the discipline around Lent helps me deal with my sin throughout the year. How about you? How do you acknowledge your own sin? What discipline do you practice to reflect on the fact that Jesus not only died for us, He also died because of us?