(Hopefully) non-self-righteous thoughts on the observance of Lent

It is the season of Lent, once more. Historically it is observed through the six weeks prior to Easter. Depending on your background—particularly if you’re Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox churches—this is is a regular event in your home and church. If you’re an evangelical, it’s hit or miss. And depending on your theological persuasion, it may actually be seen as a practice to be avoided.

My family doesn’t observe Lent. I’ve never been a member of a church that observes Lent. I wouldn’t tell you to practice it. But I’m not going to tell you to not, either.

Is there any problem with observing Lent?

Is that wishy-washy? Maybe. But here’s the thing: I’ve got bigger concerns than whether or not a Christian should observe Lent. Generally, it seems to fall into the “some observe certain feasts, others don’t” category that Paul offers in Romans 14:5-6. Simply, it seems to be a conscience issue. Although some of the historical trappings might raise questions from an evangelical Protestant perspective, the intent is hardly problematic. Choosing to devote your time more intentionally to drawing nearer to Christ through fasting, prayer, and carefully reading the Scriptures is not something any of us can really argue against (assuming that those observing Lent actually do such things).

The problem—the point at which it can most clearly be argued that one is engaging in sinful behavior while observing Lent—is not in observing Lent itself. It’s telling everyone about it. That, it seems, is where the Scriptures draw a clear line.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). This broad rule from Jesus is one we need to take seriously and apply carefully lest we become legalistic or self-righteous. What it reminds us is to consider our hearts if we choose to observe Lent, especially when tempted to share what we’re fasting from.

If you observe, seek to draw closer to Jesus as you do

When we announce our fasting and (in some cases) start posting comments on social media toward the end of the season that remind everyone how we can’t wait to have chocolate, coffee, pizza, or whatever else you can think of, why are we saying it? Do we not risk becoming like those whom Jesus called hypocrites in Matthew 6:16? Do we not also do the same when we frequently share how much deeper our relationship with Jesus is becoming through our observance?

Even these are points I want to avoid drawing too fine a line on. For some, sharing is a matter of accountability. For others, it’s just communicating as with every other activity in their lives. And for others still, it’s out of a desire to encourage those who might be listening. But for what it’s worth, here’s my encouragement: if you’re going to observe Lent, go for it. If you’re not, that’s cool, too. But in either case, if your goal is to enjoy Jesus to a greater degree through your observance or lack thereof, the only person who needs to know about it is you.

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