Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the liturgical calendar. Lent is a 40 day period leading up to Easter that, in my estimation, was designed by the church to help prepare people’s hearts and spirits for Easter. It is a time of reflection on the sacrifice of Jesus and a study of the last days of his ministry on earth.
Growing up in a non-churchgoing home, this was all a very foreign concept to me. As a resident of a very Pennsylvania Dutch area, I understood the concept of Fat Tuesday and the beauty of the fasnacht.
I knew that this time kicked off something called Lent and that many of my friends would be giving things up for a 40 day period…things like watching their favorite TV show, soda, chocolate, candy and various other things. I also knew that some friends couldn’t eat meat on Fridays throughout Lent. But all of that wrapped up on Good Friday (which I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it was called that when Jesus died that day…but that’s a post for about 38 days from now!) and then we’d all get a visit from the Easter bunny and eat lots of candy and have a big dinner with our families.
When I started attending a non-denominational church in my late 20s, Lent was still a bit of a foreign concept. We focused our attention Sundays on studying Jesus’ last days and often were given supplemental readings to do throughout the period. Some larger local non-denoms offered a Good Friday service, so I’d sometimes attend. While I came to understand the fasting or giving up component of Lent a bit better, I didn’t feel like that was the right way for me to approach it. While I understand that giving up something I love, like chocolate, is difficult, I couldn’t get it to align with a true sacrifice in my mind.
That said, I still wanted to do something that would reflect the solemnity of the time period and allow me to focus on something other than my usual selfish self. In doing some reading and talking with respected friends who share my faith, I decided that adding something rather than taking away something would be a good way for me to center myself during the 40 days of Lent. This year will be no different. As in the past, I’ve chosen to exercise each of the 40 days. To some, this may not seem like a big deal, nor may it seem to fit with the Lenten plans of others. But for me, this is a challenge for many reasons. I am too easily able to justify not making my own healthy and well-being a priority. I fall prey too often to taking care of others and other things before myself. And frankly, I don’t LIKE exercise. I’d much rather lie on the couch eating bon bons (whatever those are but they sound wildly delicious. And chocolaty.) And so my focus becomes about focus. It becomes about sacrificing that which might not be the best for me to something better. It becomes about respecting the body that I was given and remembering that it is entrusted to me for this time. It becomes about something more than simple exercise, and gives me yet another small reason to stop and give thanks for all that has been given to me.