Today, March 5, is Ash Wednesday. So begins our 40 day (plus Sundays) journey of Lent!
(Just in case Lent is new to you—it was to me a few years ago!—here’s a short video to introduce it.)
Each year, many Christians use Lent as a time to refocus through the Big Three practices of Fasting, Praying and Giving. (More on that here.) And each year I’ve had a sense of what God was inviting me to fast from—certain foods, media, dining out, etc. (Never coffee. God loves me too much to ask that, right?)
But this year I wasn’t sure. I started Ash Wednesday without a chosen fast, and was waiting on God to show me what would be helpful for me right now. And the answer I got was surprising.
This year, God is inviting me to fast from self-reliance.
You see, I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly needy person. I feel things deeply, and walk a thin line between health and anxiety or depression. My closest friends know that I need a lot of reassurance and comfort. This has always seemed like a failure, weakness, shame.
But recently God has been challenging that view for me. And today, as I sat to pray, God invited me to use a single word: “Help!” Not because I’m so shockingly weak. Not because I’m a failure. Not because I can’t pull it together on my own. No—ask help, God said, because that’s how I made you. Needing help is normal.
Kids understand this. They come to their parents for shoes to be tied, homework to be explained, monsters to be chased out from under beds, straws to be stabbed into their juice boxes. Children in supportive homes aren’t often ashamed to ask for help.
Lent is not a time when we fast, pray and give to make ourselves stronger on our own. It’s not a time we prove we’re spiritual athletes, heroes who can endure harsh conditions. Rather, it’s a time when set aside our illusions of self-reliance and independence—or our shame at needing help—and press into the love of our Father who loves to give.
I’m embodying this fast by spending 15 minutes a day sitting quietly before God, with my simple prayer: “Help!” And something tells me, that’s the most grown-up prayer I’ll have offered in a long time.