For many, Lent may seem like an empty ritual. But Aaron Damiani, author of The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent, begs to differ.
I have known Aaron since our college days, when we were classmates studying theology. Back then, he gave fellow students the gift of laughter by performing flawless impersonations of faculty members. Now, however, he is giving the church the gift of spiritual insight by explaining how Lent offers a “springtime for the soul,” a vision that recognizes the inestimable beauty, excellence, and glorious light of Christ.
In what follows, Aaron answers a few questions on the subject. I hope you will get a copy of his book, which not only highlights manifold opportunities of this season, but also forges a practical path toward their realization.
1. Tell me, Aaron, where did the idea of Lent originate?
Lent originated in the rough and tumble days of the early church. In times of persecution, fasting in anticipation of Easter helped the earliest Christians stay faithful to the Lord Jesus. It started as a 40 hour period over Easter weekend and gradually lengthened to 40 days (excluding Sundays) where prayer, fasting and generosity were woven together in a sustainable way. And as waves of pagan converts sought to join the church and make Christ their Lord, they needed a super-intense baptism class where their desires, habits and worldview could be deeply renewed in Christ. The practices we now associate with Lent (prayer, fasting and generosity) helped them internalize and live the story of the Gospel in distinction from the surrounding culture. This was so effective that in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea recommended Lent to all Christians to practice annually (they called it Quadragesima, “fortieth” in Latin).
2. Why is Lent important for Christians in this cultural moment?
We live in an age of entitlement, which asserts, “I deserve to be as comfortable and satisfied as I want to be.” We are constantly told to “treat yourself” and indulge the urges of the body, lest we become suppressed, cranky and less than our authentic selves. This self-worship is truly a dead end and has left many depressed, addicted and hollowed out. The call of the Scriptures in general, and of the Lord Jesus in particular, is not “treat yourself” but rather “train yourself.” Jesus calls us to take up our cross of Gospel training so that we can experience Gospel freedom. By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, the practices of Lent can help make us a distinct people again, who have greater capacity for worship of God and love of neighbor. As Easter rolls around, we’ll find the glory of Christ to be more compelling than the glory of the hottest brunch spot or Netflix offering.
3. What might observance of Lent look like in the western suburbs of Chicago?
My wife grew up in the western suburbs and we lived in Carol Stream for 2 years, so I love this question. In short, it might be an intentional decrease in comfort eating, personal hobbies and suburban privacy to take in more of Christ. One way to deepen your Lent observance is to make space in your schedule to be alone and quiet before God (whether on the Prairie Path or in your prayer closet). This might mean cutting back on some of the many extracurricular activities offered to you or your kids. Use this time to open the word of God and ask the Lord for more of his glory. It might mean skipping lunch once a week, taking in more spiritual calories to love your neighbor. Give away the money you would have spent on the extra food and activities to a local ministry. Then, invite others along. Invite your neighbors to share a simple meal with you. Or share your experience with your small group and ask them to pray for you. Maybe you could all pool your extra cash and give it to the persecuted church on Good Friday. There are many ways to customize the practice of Lent in Naperville, Wheaton, Hinsdale, Elmhurst or any other suburb.
4. What are some practical suggestions for leading others through the Lenten journey?
In short, give an invitation without an expectation. People don’t appreciate being forced, but they love to see a compelling example. The first step is to follow Christ, in Lent and beyond, and notice who is drawn to Christ through your example. Share your life with them and invite them to join you. If you truly want to lead others through the Lenten journey, share how the Lord is meeting you in your personal struggles, failure and suffering. That will encourage their hearts and can help diffuse any defensiveness or comparison on their part.