My lenten practices have varied throughout the years. For the majority of my formative years I was part of a nonliturgical church community. We rarely celebrated communion or lit advent candles, and there was not a hymn to be sung (unless, of course, it was an updated Chris Tomlin version). While fasting as part of a devotional prayer life was part of my spiritual lexicon, Lent was a virtual unknown.
I started to learn about Lent in college. Although my school was specific in its founding denomination, it welcomed and supported a variety of Christian traditions, and somehow I found myself beginning to practice lenten fasting. I don't recall now if it was truly from conviction or because I wanted to do what everyone else was doing-probably a little of both. But over the years making Lent part of my spiritual calendar has become very important to me.
Last year I felt called to a very strict fast, the most restrictive I have ever tried. I gave up a lot of foods-meat, eggs, dairy, sweets-functionally becoming a vegan. I even gave up coffee-something I had never done in my life. This is why my first date with Jer was at a tea shop-the typical coffee date wouldn't work for me!
It is funny now to look back and see that the deep sense of anticipation that I felt going into Lent was justified. I had to give things up to gain the promised blessing of my husband. The foods and indulgences were merely stand-ins for what I really needed to give up: my fear, my loneliness, my desire for control, my faithlessness, my discontent. The first half of Lent 2009 was a struggle of wills-giving up my will for Christ's. The second half was spent rejoicing and learning that His will is always better.
This year, I feel no conviction to give anything up. I'm eating chocolate, drinking my coffee, roasting chickens and making cheese bread. I feel convicted to spend more time in prayer, more time in fellowship, but not to deprive myself. This is my year of celebrations, of dancing in my kitchen and soaking up all the joy I can get.
I know there will be other years of fasting and times of reflection. But this year I am living the truth that our Lord exchanges beauty for ashes.