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The True Meaning of Lent

There was a time in my life I did not enjoy the season of Lent. All the talk about sacrifice and penance, it always felt like a punishment. Like choking down brussel sprouts at dinner in order to enjoy dessert, it always seemed something one had to endure to get to the good stuff – Easter; a season of celebration and feasting.

With that said, I knew it was important and each year I was quick to embrace the traditional emphasis on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving our Catholic faith calls for. Nevertheless, in my immaturity, I did not understand the meaning behind the solemn season and therefore, missed the point altogether.

The focus on fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are not meant to feed our ego but are tools to help us to realize our total and complete dependence on God.

sefanit stefanos

The focus on fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are not meant to feed our ego but are tools to help us to realize our total and complete dependence on God. When you fast, your body will remind you of your weakness in a very concrete way. In our hunger, we come to understand that the allusion of self-sufficiency and independence that we work so hard to maintain in our lives is all straw. We are constantly in a state of need. We are dependent and fragile; our very breath held into existence by a merciful God who is Love and holds all things together in love.

When we decide to dig a little deeper and donate money to the point of sacrifice, we are faced with a very scary question: Can I really trust God to provide for me? Isn’t that what’s really behind our hesitation to give away our treasure? If I give it away, who will take care of me? In the practice of almsgiving, you are saying with your actions as well as in your heart, “Lord, I trust that you are my provider and you will never abandon me”. And although it might be more of a prayer in the beginning than a statement of fact, with every choice to give instead of hoard, we become freer and in our freedom, we grow as children of God.

Just like it pleases parents to know that their children implicitly trust them, so too, our Heavenly Father is delighted when we trust His provision for us. That in turn, gives him permission to begin to show us all the other ways he can provide for us in our lives.

When one sits down to prayer, you are faced with the reality of your total inability to manipulate reality. You come face to face with your poverty. Can you do anything to keep your parents from divorcing? Heal your friend who’s dying of cancer and leaving behind four children? Entice your husband to choose to come into a lived relationship with God and his Church? Replace your anxiety and depression with peace and joy? God is God and we are not.

This awareness of our creaturely existence should be obvious, but it is not. Part of the human condition is to always think that we can get by without God. That we don’t need Him. This is a lie. Only the realization of our poverty will bring us to true surrender. Surrender to God; to his love, to his plan for our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and to his ability to heal and reconcile us.

All that we are ‘doing’ during Lent should uncover something in our ‘being’. It should uncover a deep ache within us. This ache, this restlessness is not something we should fear. It isn’t something that needs to be numbed with food, entertainment, and distraction, which is what usually happens.

During Lent, we allow ourselves to feel the ache and we seek to enter into it. We all have heard the popular saying by St. Augustine from his Confessions,

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

st augustine

Lent is our opportunity to experience this restlessness in order to reach out to God and pray this prayer in total broken sincerity. When we can truly do that, we are ready to celebrate Easter. Because then it isn’t just Jesus’ historical resurrection that we’re celebrating, but our very own as well. Let us praise the Lord and give Him thanks!

About Author

Sefanit is a seeker of Truth, new wife and mom, favorite sister and friend. Citizen of this world, she's originally from Eritrea, born in Rome, and raised in Dallas, Texas. Her upbringing in an Eritrean-American home shaped her worldview, which taught her that she is part of a greater community. Her joy is being with family and friends, especially cooking and baking them real food. She enjoyed traveling and experiencing new cultures before this new and very full stage of her life; hopefully, the future holds new travels with a bigger crew. She loves making people feel at home in her presence and to introduce others to the generous love of God that she has experienced, which is her calling in life. She experienced the best of both worlds as a graduate of both Texas A&M and Franciscan University and has worked in fulltime ministry for the last ten years. Currently pregnant with her second child, Sefanit lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and one-year-old son. You'll find her seeking joy and gratitude amidst changing diapers and cleaning food off the walls.

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