I've been practicing Lent, in some fashion or other, for about the last decade. Lent is the forty day period (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. It is part of the recurring rhythm of the church calendar, another way to mark time by following in the footsteps of Jesus.
It is a time of fasting and prayer. It is a penitential, preparatory season. During Lent we focus on the life and teachings of Jesus, all the while preparing to embrace the terrible beauty of his death and resurrection. For me it is a much-needed shift in perspective.
At its heart, Lent is about hunger and humility.
Hunger - Where would we be without the recognition of our lack? We live in a supersaturated society, where desires are gratified smoothly at our fingertips, and our stomachs growl right along with the ceaseless roar of consumerism. Through fasting, through denial, and self-sacrifice, we acknowledge that we have needs we alone cannot satisfy. We don't fast to gain brownie points with God. We fast to remember our great need of Him. And in mercy He fills the empty places.
Humility - Where would we be without this unpopular position? With our noses so high in the air that God becomes merely a stumbling stone to our vain ambition, when He wants to build us a sanctuary (Isaiah 8:11-15). The only way in is through a fearfully narrow gate, and we must crawl on prayerful knees. But once inside, we find a fortress of shelter and strength, a sacred dwelling. And in mercy He gives us the ability to receive.
Hunger and humility soften our hearts. They make us search after our upside-down King as he makes his way from the Sermon on the Mount to the Mount of Olives. They make us strain to hear his whispers and climb trees to see his wonders.
Lent is an invitation to a forty day journey with Jesus. A journey of hunger, humility, and honesty. A journey to His heart.