No meat on Fridays. Fish and eggs are okay. Chicken wings are definitely out.
I still remember the first year I decided to participate in Lent as a non-Catholic.
Growing up Baptist, we had never celebrated Lent, and now I was finding all of the rules about what Catholics can and can’t eat during Lent overwhelming and more than a little confusing.
Ham is out. Bacon is out. Oh, wait! We have to fast too?
When I married a cradle Catholic, I figured there would be some doctrines, like transubstantiation and confessing to a priest, that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on. Thankfully, these differences never turned out to be a huge issue. The more I began to study what Catholics believe and why the more I had to agree that the Catholic position had a lot more scriptural support than I had bargained for.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was just how much of Catholic daily life centers around tradition. Or how I’d have to figure out how to fit into a religion that’s had more than 2,000 years to develop when I’d only recently started attending Mass and researching Catholicism on my own.
Wait, which days do we fast and which do we abstain again? This is so confusing.
So, I started small. I went through RCIA and decided to participate in Lent.
My reasoning was simple: I wanted to support my Catholic husband in his faith and set a good example for our children. Lent is pretty denomination-friendly, and I definitely didn’t want to have to stand before God some day and explain how dieting for months to look good in a bathing suit isn’t too much trouble but going without meat for a few Fridays is.
And if I messed up, it was in the comfort and privacy of my own home, so no one would even know!
What I didn’t anticipate is how my faith would grow as a result.
As a lifelong Christian, I know how important it is to regularly spend time with God and to make God the #1 priority in my life. I just never seemed to get around to it. There was always something else more pressing on my to-do list.
From cleaning the toilets to making dinner to reading yet another bedtime story, it often seemed as if my days were spoken for before my feet even hit the floor in the morning. I wanted to read my Bible. I wanted to pray more. But where would I find the time?
No, if I wanted to find time for God, I would have to make it. And Lent provided the perfect opportunity.
The first year I participated in Lent, I kept it very simple. I didn’t do a full fast since I was pregnant at the time, and I didn’t pray or give more than I already had been either. I did abstain from meat on Fridays, and I’m pretty certain I did give something up for Lent, though I can’t remember what it was now. (Nothing that stuck!)
I definitely didn’t do it perfectly, but I took a step. And that step was all God needed to begin opening my heart to the hidden beauty of Catholic tradition and how even something as simple as following a few small rules can have a profound impact on your faith.
So this year, as I prepare for another round of Lent and what that will look like for me, I’m truly excited because I’ve discovered a very important secret I didn’t know before.
Turns out, Lent isn’t just about rules and routines. It’s not really about fasting, ashes, or giving up chocolate for a few weeks either.
The real purpose of Lent is to get rid of anything that would keep your heart far from God. It’s about purposeful remembering, preparing your heart for the miracle that is Easter, and making sure you have the soul space available for the work God wants to do in and through you.
And if that’s not a good enough reason to celebrate Lent, I don’t know what is.
Pass the fish!