By Matt Meyer

Why Observe Lent?

Next week Lent begins!

“That’s great,” you may be saying, “but what exactly is Lent?”

Believe it or not, “Lent” comes from a Latin word that means, “God wants you to stop eating candy for a few weeks until Easter.”

I’m kidding. But it sure seems like that’s what Lent has come to mean. And while there’s nothing wrong with a 40-day sugar fast, devoting some time and energy to understanding and observing Lent can be profoundly good for our souls.

So, what is Lent, really?

In the first 300-400 years of Christianity, many faithful women and men recognized the fruitfulness of setting aside chunks of time surrounding major Christian holidays. Christians from Jewish and Gentile roots adapted this practice from the rhythms of festivals that God laid out in the Old Testament. Followers of Jesus began to contextualize this in order to help themselves fully prepare for and then enter into the most important annual celebrations like Christmas and Easter.

Lent was set aside as a time for Christians to contemplate Jesus’ work on the cross in preparation for a massive celebration on Easter. People would fast as an act of recognition of their sin and also as a means of preparing for the Spirit to have more access to work in their lives.

The same opportunity is available to us today during Lent. It’s a time to reflect on our sinful nature and our fragile humanity so that when Easter comes we are able to more fully appreciate and celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death on the cross.

So, how can I engage in Lent?

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving up sweets for Lent. But if that’s all this season has become, we are missing out on something great. Lent is a fantastic time for us to give God space to teach us humility and to shine a light on unhealthy things he wants to root out of our lives.

With that in mind, I have a few suggestions for how you might want to engage in Lent this year.

  1. Attend liturgical services. Catholic, Episcopalian, Orthodox, and other liturgical churches take Lent very seriously, often holding some sort of service each day. Regularly attending a church that observes Lent is a wonderful way to enter into the season.
  2. Thoughtfully consider a fast. Fasting is a great way to humbly acknowledge our dependence on God. You may, of course, feel led to give up sweets, but there are so many other options! You might consider fasting from all food once a week, fasting from media, fasting from coffee, fasting from meat, or even fasting from complaining!
  3. Start a new habit or practice. Traditionally, Christians fasted so that they had more time free to engage in prayer. If you choose to fast from something, consider starting a new habit alongside your fast. You could find an opportunity to serve in your community, write an affirming letter to someone every day, or practice doing daily, small, unseen acts of kindness.

There is a ton of space for creativity in this framework. I have a friend who decided to fast from running water for one year, out of solidarity with those who don’t have access to it. She would walk or bike to the local river each day and carry back the amount of water she needed. Incredible!

So what about you? Let’s start a conversation that will help us all move toward a deeper understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection and deeper relationship with him.


Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
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Matt Meyer has been on staff with InterVarsity since 2006 and now works as an Area Director, serving campuses on the coast just north of Los Angeles.

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