Choosing Structure As Freedom: Reflections on Lent
Lent. It's the season of giving up, sacrificing, preparing. During "Lententide," we turn our eyes and our hearts more fully towards Christ and the cross in anticipation of Easter Sunday coming soon.
Growing up Southern Baptist, my family didn't celebrate Lent - it was something my Catholic friends in my small New Jersey hometown mentioned begrudgingly - whatever they were "giving up" seemed to be something their parents were making them do. In my twenties, I became more familiar with the practice of Lent and realized it's for anyone who follows Jesus and not just those from liturgical denominations. I still never observed Lent until last year when I gave up Instagram and Facebook for the Lenten season. It was an amazing experience, and I felt so refreshed and more present in my life - and in the lives of my husband and daughters - as I took a step back from mindlessly scrolling through my feeds as a distraction.
Here's the thing, though - I'm a rule-follower. I love following rules and hate getting in trouble. Even as a child, I was the teacher's pet, and it only took a negative glance my way to get back in line. One time in senior year French class, my friend Julie and I got detention because we were laughing too much, and I was mortified. Even now as an adult, give me a rule, and I'll go out of my way to follow it to a T, sometimes to my own detriment.
But following rules is not what faith in Jesus is about.
I don't think there's anything wrong with "giving something up" for Lent - like I said, I've done it before. But as I can tend to be on the legalistic side, I don't want Lent to be a temporary deprivation that creates a temporary piety in my heart that is soon forgotten after Easter Sunday. I don't need another rule to follow, another thing to check off my list.
What will really stretch me...what will really turn my face towards Christ, is letting the Lenten season be a catalyst for deep, heartfelt, lasting change. And it comes down to three words: living in freedom. This isn't something I'm only implementing for the 46 days of Lent. This is just the first mile in the road of what I hope is a life of more fullness, less worry, more confidence, less fear, more joy, and less carrying burdens alone.
A counselor-friend imparted some very wise words recently: Freedom is not the absence of limitations; it is the choice of limitations. As a human, I am given the ability to design my own program for my freedom. As a believer, I've been given full freedom from Christ, but how I live my life decides if I embrace that or not. Out of this freedom, whom and what will I serve? I don't get to be and choose all things.
Simply following rules is the old law. The old law says I have to stick to a bunch of rules in order to be close to God. The new law of love says I freely choose to follow God's Word, because I love Him. Yes, there's a new kind of structure that brings freedom.
In the She Reads Truth Lent study that is currently happening, this quote by Rebecca Faires spoke to me:
"During the season of Lent, we try to give things up to train our raw fingers to let go of old ways. But to reconcile with God and to breathe in the springtime, we have to do more than just let go. We have to replace our icy vices with the good, warm things of God."
So what does this look like practically? How do I add more freedom to my life?
- Choosing a structure of daily exercise and making time to care for myself physically - not because I should or to look a certain way but because it makes me more healthy and strong and full of life. I've begun a Pilates program I can do from home.
- Releasing my grip on my children - giving them more freedom and allowing parenting to be more messy.
- Releasing control on my marriage and not expecting my husband's words or actions to be a certain way. We are one flesh, but we are also each on our own journeys with the Lord. Own this journey.
- Planning out the week to ensure enough social time for us and our daughters - making time for homeschool, play dates with friends, and just time to enjoy the outdoors.
- Continue to get better at saying "no" to the things don't bring life so I can make room for the things that do (always a work in progress!).
- Reach out bravely in friendships with other women. I'll be hosting my first IF:Table gathering in March, and I'm actually giddy about it.
These are mostly broadly painted strokes rather than bullet-pointed items I can check off a list. And that's how it needs to be so these practices can become woven into my life, for good.
Am I going to do this perfectly? Nope. But when that happens, I'm not going to have "failed Lent." If I get off track, I'm going to get back up, stand on my own two feet, turn back towards my Savior and keep going.
Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (NIV)
It's time to shed some yokes, my friends. Lent is the perfect time.
What do you need to give up today? In what areas do you need to find freedom in your life? Is there a new structure you need to freely choose, in order to find that freedom?
If you'd like some resources to help you along your Lenten journey, here are some I highly recommend:
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Christine Bailey is wife to Steven and mama to four-year-old Luci Belle and 1-year-old Norah. After working in the music industry in Nashville and then helping start an African relief organization, she and her husband now own an urban farmstead and produce co-op in Dallas and love sharing meals with family and friends. In her (not so) spare time, she shares her art, photography, and writings on her blog, Dreams of Simple Life and looks for the beauty amidst the imperfection of everyday life.