For almost two thousand years, Christians of many denominations have observed the season of Lent, beginning with the observance of Ash Wednesday. While the exact practices of Lent vary from one individual to another, one common practice has been to fast, or give up something, between Ash Wednesday and Easter. By abstaining from a vice, a specific indulgence or luxury, those who follow Christ give up something we would otherwise rely upon, letting our hunger for that thing drive us towards deeper dependence on God as we prepare for the redemption we celebrate on Easter Sunday.
In a sense, we who fast in some way during Lent leave something behind for a period of time. We know that at some point we may return to that thing. But for 40 days or so, we do not take it with us, do not rely upon it in the same way we otherwise would.
As is the case with many of the practices (like Lent) that our early church fathers and mothers introduced, the work God might do in us during throughout this season will look different for each of us. There’s no exhaustive list of what God does when we leave something behind, letting its importance to us diminish, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to increase God’s importance and form us spiritually.
And yet this year there is perhaps a particular quality to our practice of leaving something behind. Since last Easter, the Church has been moved by the stories of millions in the Middle East forced to leave behind almost all that they own. As bullets and bombs that were once miles away suddenly advanced to the streets where they lived, they fled for safety. Fleeing in the middle of the night, they took next to nothing with them, leaving behind homes, cars, family photos, precious heirlooms and more.
This lenten season, as we leave behind things of varying importance to us, perhaps the Holy Spirit will introduce yet another way in which we are spiritually formed. Perhaps God might give us a subtle yet profound reminder of our brothers and sisters forced to leave behind their very lives, a reminder that moves us to new levels of compassion. And perhaps we might even practice—in some small way—the spirit of dependency our refugee friends practice on a daily basis, a practice that would lead us throughout Lent and beyond to experience true justice with ourselves, with our neighbor and with God.