How Can Lent Reawaken You?
Lent is a season of forty days when believers can prepare themselves for Easter, arguably the most sacred of Christian holidays. Practiced by followers of many Christian faiths, it’s most commonly held from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. It’s a time of prayer, fasting, self-reflection, repentance, and reconnecting with the holy.
There’s great flexibility in the practice, but many choose to give up something—a habit like gossiping or social media, or certain foods like desserts or coffee—or to do acts of service for others. Some religions also have fast days during this time and abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Sundays during the Lenten season are not counted in the forty days, and are meant to represent a mini Easter celebration, focusing on the Lord, His resurrection, and His love.
Lent is not a part of my faith, but I grew up in Pennsylvania surrounded by many who practiced it—I’d see them come to school with the ash mark on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday and I’d hear chats around the lunch table about what food or TV show friends were giving up that year. Now that I live in Oregon, I honestly haven’t thought about Lent in years. I was recently surprised and delighted, though, when I realized my dear friend and neighbor, Mimie, participates in the season. I sat down with her to learn more about why Lent is part of her worship, and what it means to her. — Jackie Shafer, Small Seed Editor
“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love.”
—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, formerly Mother Teresa
Jackie: What is your spiritual background?
Mimie: I was raised going back and forth between Africa and France, but I grew up mostly in Paris. My grandma was Baptist—she even rose all the way up to being a deaconess—and I was baptized as a Baptist in Africa when I was younger and I went to her church.
Then I started going to a Catholic boarding school in Paris when I was five, and the religion was part of the school. I started attending the Catholic Church then. When I would go back home to Africa on vacation, I would attend the Baptist Church with my grandma. But then when I was ten and living just with my dad in Paris, I went to Sunday School, I did the catechism, and I was baptized again as Catholic and started regularly attending the Catholic Church.
My dad at that time never went to church, but my siblings and I did. My siblings eventually became Pentecostal and I remained the only Catholic.
How long have you practiced Lent? Did you start at school?
I started at age 5, and then gradually more after that. When we were at school it wasn’t really enforced because we were younger, but it was there that you started learning at a young age what Lent means—you go without candies or things that you like, you pray a little more.
What kind of things have you given up for Lent?
When I was little it was candy or a favorite toy. As I grew up, I tried to give up bigger stuff. Now I’ve tried giving up going online, Facebook, candy (it’s still one of the things!), cake, sweets, sugar, or watching movies that have swearing in it. I’ve also tried giving up buying stuff—just things I like to buy for fun, like shoes.
What does Lent mean to you? Why do you practice it?
Lent, for me, is a way to reconnect with my faith and to get a closer relationship with God, Jesus Christ and God our Lord. It doesn’t necessarily mean sacrifice; it means a kind of strengthening of your faith and your beliefs.
I think it gives me more strength and more focus. It gives me more room to not worry about things that have no value ultimately to me as a human being, and also it leaves more room to clear my mind from too many distractions.
What’s your favorite part of Lent?
The reminder that there’s a higher Being than all of us, that’s definitely my most favorite part of Lent—knowing that there’s Somebody there who I can have a conversation with, just being myself without being afraid of being judged or rejected. I love that bond and that relationship that you form with God, and the way that you are able every day to see that you can live without those things you thought you couldn’t live without. It’s the strengthening of your own faith and your own belief.
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us,
to shake us from our lethargy.”
What’s challenging about Lent?
It’s remaining strong in faith, you know? It’s the letting go; knowing that you’re weak but that you cannot just excuse yourself and say “Oh, but the flesh is weak.”
What do you do on those Sundays to make a mini-Easter?
During Lent, I do the same thing as I do on other Sundays. I bring my best—I try to have my hair nicely done, dress up nicely, because for me it’s a kind of a party. I’m going to talk with my Maker. I’m going to celebrate and be thankful for the life that I have and the blessing of waking up every single day.
But during Lent I also try not to dwell on the thing I’m giving up. I don’t just say, “Oh, it’s Sunday, so I’m just going to forget about Lent!” I just try to keep going.
I try to celebrate the little victories that past week and that I didn’t give up. It’s a celebration—if Jesus was able to go through all those days, and then He died on the cross, was resurrected, and cleansed us from all our sins, then it’s a good to come on Sunday. I don’t think about the giving up, the praying, and making it like a funeral, but I focus on being happy and seeing people in their best clothes and eating nice food.
What advice do you have for people practicing Lent for the first time?
Everybody goes through their own Lent their own way. There’s not a right way or a wrong way of doing Lent, even with as little as you can do. Lent is Monday through Saturday, and the Sunday is the mini-Easter. But if you can only do two days or three days, it’s fine—you don’t have to be doing every single day as long as you are doing it for the right reasons. There’s no messing up.
When there is a big Catholic community you’ll see people wearing ash, but not everybody has to do it. Many go to church early in the morning on Ash Wednesday—plus there’s also a night service you can go to—and you’ll receive the ash mark.
I don’t focus that much on Lent as a way of praying, because I feel like you should have that relationship with God every day regardless of it being Lent or not. I don’t push a certain way to worship on people because it’s easy to get so into the custom that we forget the real purpose of it. You can’t give up things [for Lent] but not live Jesus’s teachings—it won’t mean anything.
Mimie and I often discuss children, careers, gardening, and funny things we find online, laughing often and loud. It was so uplifting to change our pace and discuss her faith and what God means to her. The sanctifying and strengthening she gains from Lent sound like just the way I want to approach the holy Easter holiday. I was so inspired after our talk, that I decided to practice Lent for the first time this year. I look forward to taking extra time to be holy, and I’m grateful for my sweet friend’s example and motivation.
How will you get ready for Easter this year? Before you dye the eggs and hide the candy, we hope you’ll ponder today if there’s something you could do or set aside to help you celebrate the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How could you make more room for the Savior in your life? What could you do to draw closer to God? What could you gain by giving up? I hope we can all join fellow Christians around the world in finding ways to more purposefully prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration. — Jackie
Mimie is a mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister and an engineer living life through her Catholic faith in accordance to our Lord Jesus Christ's teachings.
Throughout her daily interactions, Mimie feels blessed to gain knowledge of other religions through family members, as well as friends and neighbors. She's married to a Muslim and is raising her child to be accepting and tolerant of all religious beliefs.