Hi folks! Today I have a treat for you: a few quick thoughts on Lent from psychologist and spiritual director (hi, Mom!), Dr. Betsy Barber. Enjoy! -Jessica
When I think of the purpose and practice of Lent, I think of four things:
1. Lent is a mini-picture of the larger Sanctification process through which we're going as we come to know more deeply the truth about the Lord Jesus and His purpose for us. Ephesians 4:20-24 talks about the manner in which we increasingly come to know Him and the basic two-fold process that involves both the "putting off our old selves which were corrupted by deceitful desires" (v. 22) and the "putting on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (v. 24). And so in Lent, we consciously and purposefully practice this putting on and putting off: first, we fast and put off our desires, and secondly, we practice some virtue or alms-giving as we put on the new righteous self. In this way we participate in the larger work that the Holy Spirit is working in our souls: forming the very character of Christ in us.
2. Lent allows us to know the Lord Jesus better in a developmental way - either as a child imitating a beloved father, or as an adult falling more deeply in love with our Beloved. During Lent we fast for 40 days, re-living the experience and rhythm of the Lord Jesus' fast in the Desert.
Some of us participate in this Fast primarily as children, it seems to me. We come to it concretely and in a very external and physical sense: "since Jesus did this, I will do this, because I want to imitate His life and be like Him. So if He fasted, I will fast."
Another group of us come to this in a more internal and less concrete way, I think. We come to the Lenten experience in a more developmentally abstract way, focusing on the experience of our Beloved, and we say something like this: "since this fasting and service was part of His earthly experience, I want to try and experience something like this too, so that I can know Him better and understand Him more deeply."
Both of these two ways, the explicit approach and the implicit approach, may look very similar on the surface. Both foster deeper intimacy with our Lord.
3. Lent also helps us grow in our volitional allegiance to the Lord Jesus. We consciously practice saying "No" to our regular practices and habits, in order to truly say "yes" to the celebration of our Lord's resurrection. Here we are exercising our wills and our agency of self. Fasting comes before feasting and makes the feasting all the sweeter by the contrast. It's a simple psychological principle: only those who truly have the freedom to deny a thing, can truly have the freedom to welcome a thing. And so we first say 'no' to our body's desires in order to truly say 'yes' in celebration. Lent is preparation for our heart's festival and party to celebrate our Hero's return and rescue of His beloved church.
4. Finally, it seems to me that a good metaphor for Lent is that our keeping Lent is like one of our little children's Sunday School pictures. Lent is an artifact of the Church, it is not commanded nor suggested by Scripture. But it is a useful practice that helps us learn about the Lord Jesus, and it helps us interact with Him and His life in our own small way... like coloring a Bible story picture lets our little ones interact with the life of the Lord Jesus in their small way. And it seems to me that we offer our Lenten practices to Him similarly as our children offer us their pictures. And that He, like us, is pleased with our effort - is pleased because it is from us and it is about Him. And after the effort is done, we know His smile and His embrace and we celebrate His life and our life together.