Lent during Lockdown
Trevor reflects on how God brings change to our lives as we all experience a very different kind of Lent in 2021
Less opportunities for travel, for eating out, for visiting friends… each one of us will have our own story to tell about the pandemic and the three lockdowns associated with it, but it’s probably fair to say that we’ve all had more scope for ‘self-denial’ than is normally the case. This experience will have been harder for some of us than for others. There will be some in our number who are more naturally drawn to a simpler and slower lifestyle. I’m an introvert who feels perfectly happy working alone or relaxing in my own company and the detachment which came in the early stages of lockdown had a certain appeal.
However, my guess is I’m not the only person for whom the novelty has long since worn off.
Many of us find ourselves longing for the return of encounters and occasions which we’d probably been taking for granted: sharing a drink or a meal with friends, browsing for non-essential items in a shop and even trying them on, and, of course, worshipping in person with our brothers and sisters in church. Hugs at the door, singing in the service, a cup of tea afterwards. When, we ask ourselves, when normal service ever resume?
In light of this, it’s understandable that some of us might be feeling a reluctance to think about Lent in 2021. It might be that we feel we’ve had to give up enough already. Surely God can’t be expecting more sacrifice from us?
Perhaps we approach Lent in this way because we’ve come to think of it as a time of the year which is about nothing more than giving things up. This is a limited perspective, but the one which was taught to me during my childhood. The beginning of Lent was a time when I would think of something to give up (probably chocolate), six weeks of self-restraint to be endured before an indulgent and celebratory feast at Easter.
Could it be that 2021 is a year when we can see Lent in a different way? One of the most eminent British Baptist theologians of recent years, John Colwell, has written that,
‘To celebrate Lent as merely a matter of denial or abstinence is potentially distorting.’
The idea of this season is not just to give things up for the sake of it, an exercise in willpower or a test in spiritual strength akin to holding our breath under water. Rather, we are being invited to live in light of the impending arrival of Easter, to consider Jesus, making his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and knowing it will end in the final reckoning that leads to the cross, and wondering how breaking an old habit or forming a new one might be a means of us becoming more like him.
For some of us, this might still mean that Lent is about giving something up, perhaps our favourite food or drink or maybe some other kind of abstinence. In recent years some of my friends have opted for a digital detox, deleting apps like Twitter or Facebook from their phones for the duration of Lent. If we do decide to go down this path of self-denial, perhaps we could also make sure to reflect more deeply on what we’re learning about ourselves as we wean ourselves off whatever it is we’re abstaining from. Are there ways we have become too complacent or things we’ve started to rely on instead of God? If we’ve gotten into the habit of eating for comfort or drinking to unwind, what is that telling us about the burdens we’re not handing over to God or our rhythm of life and how it might be falling short of his best for us?
But could it also be the case that Lent in 2021 offers an opportunity for God to work in our lives as we establish some new habits or disciplines?
During this season we’ll be continuing our preaching series on Living for God, reflecting on what it means to be people who are ‘living sacrifices, living together and living to bless’. As you listen to these sermons you may want to reflect on any changes in your life God is calling you to make and how Lent might be the time to take these steps.
Are there new practices you can establish on a Sunday which mark the day out from the rest of the week? Could you carve out more space to be still and quiet, perhaps your one hour of exercise a day, and how might God work in your heart in those moments? And who might God be calling you to bless or welcome during Lent? Is there someone who could call or write to regularly, for whom your friendship and encouragement might make all the difference?
I’d like to leave the final word on Lent to John Colwell, who concludes that,
‘In our celebration of Lent, we are invited to join Jesus in the wilderness, resisting the temptation to be dominated by bodily appetites, acknowledging that we too do not live by bread alone, single-mindedly pursuing the Father’s will even though it may lead to the self-sacrifice of a Cross. And if tokens of self-denial are at all appropriate in our celebration of Lent, they are so precisely as demonstrations of this right ordering of otherwise appropriate desires, of a disciplined discipleship, of an authentic freedom, of a seeking after God before a seeking after anyone or anything else.’
Whatever we do during Lent, whether it’s seeking to end an old habit or form a new one, let it be with this ultimate goal in mind: putting God in first place, above and beyond everything else. Let’s pray with David, who says in Psalm 27:8:
‘My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.’
And as we do so, let’s also hold on to the promise of Jesus that those who seek will find. I pray that you will find him drawing near in new ways, as you discover more about him and yourself in your journey through Lent.
‘… if tokens of self-denial are at all appropriate in our celebration of Lent, they are so precisely as demonstrations of … a seeking after God before a seeking after anyone or anything else.’