Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Lenten season. While lent has is roots in Catholicism, it is a season of fasting, penance, and reflection leading up to resurrection Sunday—Easter— observed by many Christians. This Wednesday is 46 days before Easter; 40 fasting days according to the Catholic tradition that Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded. The heart behind this season of lent is to mirror the 40 days of fasting Jesus did as preparation for the beginning of his ministry. And while there are no specific passages in the Bible that denote a special meaning to the number 40, it is a number that appears often in scripture.
Noah spent 40 days and 40 nights on the ark as God poured rain down on the earth.
Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.
Moses interceded in prayer on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and nights.
The Israelites spent 40 days spying in Canaan, the Promised Land. Then they wandered in the desert for 40 years before God brought them in to it.
And there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension in to Heaven.
Forty, it seems to me, represents a kind of fullness is scripture; the amount of time God takes to complete something big. As I think about these things, about the faith and diligence to pray or fast for 40 days or to believe that a promise would truly be fulfilled after 40 years, it is not lost on me that I rarely persevere in anything that long. I’m not yet 40 years old, so I don’t have a barometer for that kind of big picture faith. And I’ve tried giving up (fasting) chocolate or ice cream or even television for lent in the past, but then there is March Madness or a friend brings me fresh cookies and I make all sorts of exceptions, and I’m all, “well, I’ll try again next year.”
I love the idea of fasting, of going without something, so that we can tangibly make room for Jesus to enter in to that space. And maybe that is exactly what God is asking from you during the next 40 days. But I also love the idea of being diligent toward something, of being faithful to intercede in prayer on someone’s behalf, of giving of myself in a new way. This year, this Lenten season for me is about quiet space, about faith, and about prayer.
I write as a lifeline, as a way to process, as a discipline, and as a means to really understand what I think. But what I don’t do well is pray. I write prayers, but far too often I don’t stop and speak them, whether out loud or in my heart. From this Wednesday until the day we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, my heart wants, LONGS, to pray for my marriage, for my children, for my family, for my friends, for my city, and for this world. The headlines have become numbing to me: Christians beheaded, hundreds of girls kidnapped, another war on the horizon… and here, this season of preparation for the darkest day in history followed three days later by the greatest. And I want to pray like I believe in the greatest day. A disciplined season of making room for quiet before the Lord, just him and me, begging for the faith I know I need for this life. I’m just so scared without it. But I think I’m supposed to be. When the Spirit of God is not there, fear is. But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. I want more than anything for him to complete a big, freeing faith in me.
Let it be so.