Diet. Guilt. Self-discipline. Habit. Tradition. Penance.
These are reasons why we participate in Lent. These aren't good reasons alone. At best, they miss point; at worst they distract us from Jesus. A renewed and communal focus on Jesus's life, death, and resurrection is the purpose of this journey.
We need not do penance nor be defined by guilt. Christ has died!
We need not find life in diet plans and self-discipline. Christ has risen!
We need not practice habits or traditions prescribed by man. Christ will come again!
Like all other spiritual disciplines, our efforts throughout Lent are "by grace through faith." What's special about this season is the community aspect. Together, the church universal from many different backgrounds journeys for the next forty-plus days en route to our celebration of Jesus. It begins by focusing on our mortality and sin, with ash smeared across our foreheads; it leads us to our victory and atonement in Christ!
"From dust you come; to dust you shall return." This refrain reminds us of two key aspects of our humanity.
We are finite.
We are fallen.
As Psalm 39 says, "Make me know my end... and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am." Finite.
David continues, "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions." Fallen.
Lent is as much about waiting as it is doing. It is a time to take stock of our hope. It is a time to remember that we are impatient and lack hope in much more than ourselves.
It is a time to meet Jesus... again... Our Lord and Savior!
So, maybe you will give up something in order to deliberately focus on the hope you have in Christ. Maybe you'll do something in order to see Him more clearly. If Jesus is your goal, your center, "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).
"Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25)