In the physical realm, I usually give up sweets for Lent. This year, “sweets and wheats” is the label on my physical sacrifice. These two substances tend to derail me from good health. Giving them up is an offering I make to God in order to honor this temple he’s given me.
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself…”
(1 Corinthians 6:19, NLT)
In addition to physical fasting, I’ve begun incorporating a more focused spiritual element in the form of Alicia Britt Chole’s book 40 Days of Decrease. Several years ago, I discovered this gem and love reading it. I specifically chose this book because I sensed the need for a deeper walk with God. Chole’s 40-day journey is both compelling and challenging.
One of the main premises of the book is to focus on Lent as an experience instead of a ritual or project. Too often, we treat Lenten sacrifices as things to tick off on a holy checklist. Instead, we should view them as a way to focus on the sacrifice of Jesus and a means to grow closer to Him.
I don’t want to get caught up in spiritual bookkeeping. God has so much more for me. Instead, I long for the richness of the deep communion with God I experience when I am more reflective.
In the introduction to the book, Chole writes:
“…I offer forty different fasts in the hope that collectively they will prepare us to be duly awed by Christ’s resurrection by being duly available to daily crucifixion.” — 40 Days of Decrease
When we think of spiritual growth, we often pursue the positive and fail to embrace the painful. Being open and available to “daily crucifixion” is not a superficial practice I can accomplish by giving up Reese’s and cookies. It’s much deeper than that. Serious soul work requires more.
Daily crucifixion means examining myself — my motives, speech, attitudes, and actions. It means dying to myself, choosing the way of the Father over my own will. I must choose forgiveness and the needs of others over my own comfort and preferences. This is where our faith meets the grace of God.
“If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25, BSB)
The Lenten season is one of my favorite times of the year. Where I live, it often begins in the chill of dark winter days and ends with the burgeoning promise of springtime. Renewal speaks in the language of birdsong and flowers. It also speaks by the Holy Spirit, refining and renewing us as we journey crossward.
Chole guides readers through the book of John and offers forty unique fasts from things like appearances, criticism, and discontentment. I’m brought to the end of myself when I contemplate these things. I’m forced to examine my heart and open myself to the Holy Spirit’s refining fire. This yearly renewal is a vital part of my growth as a Christian and the impact I have on the world.
Observing Lent as a project was part of my life for far too long. Chole sums up the critical shift to Lent as an experience when she says:
“Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls. Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denials and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God.” — 40 Days of Decrease
Jesus, draw us close as we count the cost of your journey to the cross. Help us to die to ourselves each day. Help us to fast from habits and attitudes that do not glorify You. Refine us and use us for Your glory. Thank you for the gift of Easter and the precious time you spend with us as we reflect during the Lenten season. Amen.