Lent is the liturgical season (church time of year) that we use for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday till Good Friday, and is a time of fasting in preparation for Holy Week. But to be honest, sometimes the expectations and language around Lent can be a little unclear (at least it was to me as a teenager) — so if your middle or high schooler has questions (or if you do), here’s a list of FAQs and answers around this season in the church.
Q: Wait, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday is 46 days … why 40 days?
A: Seasons of fasting for 40 days appear all over the Bible — Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai, Elijah fasted for 40 days on his journey to Horeb, and Jesus fasted for 40 days in the dessert in preparation for his public ministry. We don’t include Sundays in the count, as they are traditionally viewed as a reprieve from fasting.
Q: So what is fasting?
A: In the Christian tradition, fasting is intentionally withholding something we would normally partake of as a spiritual — or in more common language, it’s when we “give something up” for the season of Lent in order to create more space for God’s presence in our lives. Early fasting laws were much stricter (people could only eat one meal a day, and they couldn’t have any meat, eggs, or dairy) but today, most Christian traditions say just no meat on Fridays. During Lent, you’ll often hear about or see on social media people “giving things up” for lent — giving up sweets, alcohol, coffee, social media, fast food, etc.
Q: Why am I supposed to give up the good things about life? Isn’t that more of a punishment?
A: Fasting during Lent isn’t about denying ourselves things that make us happy — chocolate or coffee or soda or social media or burgers or whatever — but is meant to be a time to help us refocus on our spiritual lives. In ancient Judeo-Christian traditions, the practice of fasting was meant to use the cravings as a reminder to refocus on prayer — that each time you felt hungry, you would turn to rely on God for strength and perseverance. Now, I’m not saying you have to be hungry or thirsty to practice spiritual disciplines, but I’m as guilty as the next person that, any time I need something, I just do it. I grab a snack when I’m hungry, I get coffee when I’m tired, I fight my way back up when I’m feeling down … and sometimes, God isn’t even part of the process. The practice of giving something up — of creating space where something else was for God to be more present in my day-to-day life and thoughts and decisions — that makes more sense to me.
Q: What if I don’t give something up? Does that make me a bad person?
A: No! Fasting during Lent is more recommendation than rule. The other language that you might hear (especially here at FUMC FW from Lance in the Gathering) is that instead of giving something up for Lent, you start something new — you take a little extra time to focus on God — same idea as fasting or giving something up, but instead of taking something away, you do something intentional to create time to build your relationship with God. It can be as simple as driving to or from school or work with your music off (or on, do whatever works for you) and pray on your drive: pray about the day ahead, or for your family, or about whatever you’ve got going on in your life that you feel like you could use a little Jesus in.
Q: If I decide to start doing something new, do I have to do it forever?
A: You can if you want to, but you don’t have to. Part of the reason that we have seasons of fasting is because they’re unsustainable. Adding something to your already busy life or giving something up that seems like a necessity at this point (like coffee for me) can seem really intimidating and unappealing if you think you have to do it forever. But starting by doing something during this season can help us start to build healthier habits and lifestyles — both physically and spiritually — that we can continue to build on moving forward.
Q: If you were to describe the season of Lent in one sentence, what would it be?
A: “Creating space for God in our lives.” I fully believe that God is always present and at work in our lives, but sometimes we get so caught up in everything else going on that we forget to look for all the places that God has already shown up.
Associate Director of Youth Ministries