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Lent: A Season of Obligation or Opportunity?

Historically Lent has often been understood as a season of obligation. According to this view, Christians are obligated to live differently during the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, as a show of one’s commitment to the faith. This obligatory nature of the season has primarily been lived out through the “giving up” of certain things (sweets, alcohol, etc) or the “taking on” of new spiritual disciplines (prayer, bible study, etc.). 

These traditional approaches to the season of Lent are not necessarily bad or wrong; they can indeed enhance one’s experience of this holy season.  That said, a focus on these practices can lead to a skewed perspective on Lent: that it is a time of fulfilling certain spiritual obligations to earn God’s favor or to improve our moral character.  This perspective can engender on the one hand feelings of spiritual superiority or, on the other hand feelings of guilt and shame.  If I successfully abstain from alcohol for forty days or successfully add a time of prayer throughout the season of Lent, then I am more worthy of love and respect.  If I fail to do these things, then I am not faithful enough.

I personally prefer to think of Lent not as a season of obligation, but rather as a season of opportunity. It is time of the Church Year when, in preparation for our Easter celebrations, we are invited to intentionally reflect on our faith and our relationship with God. This reflection may indeed call for a “giving up” of things that hinder that relationship, or a “taking on” of things that nourish that relationship.  But I think these are better understood as opportunities for growth, whereby we open ourselves more fully to God’s love and mercy.  That love and mercy are not earned through the fulfilling of certain spiritual obligations but are received as pure gift from a God of grace. 

May this Lent be for you a season of grace-filled opportunity(s)!

Yours in Christ,


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