What is lent? Why does lent last for 40 days?
Lent is the 6 week period leading up to Easter, for Christians it’s one of the most important ‘events’ of the year. It is a time for observance, reflection and preparation for the celebration of the death and mighty resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, traditionally the day after Shrove Tuesday (also now known as Pancake Day) which is always held 46 days (made up of 4o ‘fasting’ days and 6 Sundays) before Easter Sunday. These 40 days of lent are used for fasting, giving something up the requires great self control or more commonly now becoming time to take up something, for example devoting 5minutes every day to worship. Some families are using it in a fun way to involve the kids by getting them to help around the house for the 40 days (feel free to try this at home). Get them to do a chore a day to help around the house, this can be a great conversation starter about Easter and the true meaning.
Ultimately the 40 days of lent should be used to make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Why 40 days?
The number 40 shows itself a few times when you think about some well known and significant Bible stories.
- Noah’s Ark – rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights
- Moses was up on Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments for 40 days
- The Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years!
Many speculate that 40 is the number it is because that’s how long a woman carries her developing baby for before the new life enters the Earth; 40 weeks.
Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the desert or wilderness signified the imminent birth of a new Israel, liberated and forgiven of all sins, reconciled to God and governed by the law of the Spirit.
Why do people give things up for Lent/Easter?
It’s actually a really simple explanation, not some long-winded story that delves into the depths of the Bible that would lose your average person’s concentration…you’ll be pleased to know.
It’s a sign of sacrifice, also testing their self-discipline and self-control. Christians believe that this is to represent Jesus Christ’s sacrifice when he went into the desert to fast and pray for the 40 days before later dying on the Cross. When you hear the term ‘fasting’ a lot of people initially assume that means not eating, but a form of fasting is essentially giving something up, not just food. We can therefore deprive ourselves of a small pleasure or indulgence and offer that to God. Or give up a bad habit like smoking (for one example) as a way of positively turning our life back towards what God wants for us.
Ideas of things to give up for Lent
Of course you can give up the crisps, biscuits, chocolates or sweet treats you indulge in possibly every night. Other than the obvious choices that are similar to those of New Years resolutions I’ve put together a list of what I thought might be ‘out-of-the-box’ sacrifices.
- Turn off your mobile for a few hours or just the one, or maybe even just 30 minutes a day so it doesn’t distract you or pull your attention away from your family and loved ones you are with in real time. If you’re that hooked, simply try no phone at the dinner table or wherever you eat your dinner.
- A bad habit like always being the last one or late one to a meeting.
- Stop skipping important health appointments. If you’re the person that constantly puts off the doctor check ups, dental visits, eye tests and other various appointments. Use these 40 days to book in and get yourself sorted, looked after and back on track. You’re body is a temple after all, treat it and look after it like one.
- Want a real challenge and test? Give up your favorite streaming service. It’s only 40 days…you can do this. Think you could go 40 days without Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime? I dare you to give yourself the ultimate test…you can do it! You might just end up surprising yourself with the amount of extra time you suddenly realize you have.
- Gossip. If a friend starts talking about someone, say something nice about them and steer the conversation in a different direction. Give others a nudge towards positivity rather than negatively gossiping about someone behind their back.
- Photo filters. Instead of taking a break from social media just take a break from all the filters or retouching apps you use to edit your photos. You were created in God’s image try not to question or want to change yourself so much.
You Can Do This!
The ‘season’ of lent should be a successful journey through the desert of penance to a new land and a new, deeper intimacy with God.
Throughout the 40 days while you’re trying your hardest to stick to what you have decided to give up or do, be sure to remember the deeper meaning of why you are doing it. For example, say you’re giving up Chocolate or something unhealthy and if you’re completely honest with yourself you’re giving it up for lent as a sacrifice but also because maybe you’ll lose a bit of weight or be a bit healthier after. It’s important to remember you’re not doing this for yourself, there’s a bigger picture; don’t lose site of that.
I hope some of my ideas help and give you some ‘food’ for thought, so Lent can become for you the experience of lasting change that it is intended to be.
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