Some Anglican friends, wearing soot on their foreheads, introduced me to Lent more than a decade ago. Until then, my faith tradition was decidedly non-liturgical and such attentiveness to the church calendar was new to me.
From their shoddy descriptions, I imagined Lent as a formidable character who rode into town each year on Ash Wednesday and stayed until Easter morning. He spent every waking moment petitioning believers to prepare for Holy Week through a blend of prayer, repentance, giving and self-denial. Though noble, I dismissed Lent with barely a glance, like a stranger at a crowded dinner party.
Lent continued pursuing me. A group of friends sang his praises. A pastor shared with enthusiasm the difference Lent made in his own life. Even a few of my favorite bloggers bragged about knowing him. Each time I encountered his name, I felt like Lent was looking over my shoulder smiling. I decided I needed to know him better.
Searching online, I studied Lent’s vibrant heritage and background and read about his long-time connections with the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well as his newfound popularity among Mennonites and Baptists. The Latin word for Lent is Quadragesima, meaning “the 40th part.” It’s based on the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before His brief years of ministry.
Reading the Bible together
In 2013, I prayed about how best to prepare my heart and mind for Lent. I felt nudged by the Holy Spirit to read the Bible. The whole Bible in 40 days. When I mentioned the idea to my husband, Leif, he thought the premise sounded a little “crazypants.”
He wasn’t wrong.
We put together a free reading plan on our website and invited people to join us as we read through the Bible in 40 days. And we heard from people around the world — parents and co-workers and neighbors all reading through the Bible at supersonic speed.
We understood that this was a big commitment. Some days the reading was easy and delightful. Other days it felt brutally hard. Some days the Word came alive. Other days it felt stale. Some days the discipline boiled down to checking a box. Other days we didn’t want to stop reading.
The exercise felt like flying at 30,000 feet. It provided an overview of the great big story of God and revealed the breathtaking views of redemption and divine affection.
Last year, I felt compelled to hone the reading plan, so my husband and I committed to read through the New Testament during Lent. This schedule felt more manageable.
Throughout Lent, Leif and I sat on our ivory couch many mornings. A thick, hardback Bible rested on my lap. My printed out Bible reading plan rested nearby. Whenever I completed a day’s reading, I delighted in checking off one more box.
Meanwhile, Leif scrolled through the Bible on his phone. When we completed the daily readings, we’d discuss what we’d discovered or what caught our attention in the text. These moments of studying together didn’t just prepare our hearts for the arrival of Easter, they knitted a sense of connection between us. We were on the same page — literally — each morning.
New ideas for Lent
Lent provides a time for couples to grow closer together. The shared readings provide a platform for shared discovery. Leif and I will sometimes nudge each other, asking, “Have you ever noticed that detail in this passage? What word is popping off the page for you?”
After much prayer, this year Leif and I have decided to read through the Gospels. Our reading plan involves two to three chapters per day. This allows us to dive deeper into the story of Christ and get a close-up view of the life of Jesus. I can’t wait to see what God speaks and reveals through this year’s reading. Lent has become one of my favorite seasons of the year.
All too often people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?” as if Lent’s whole focus is asceticism. People greet Lent by giving up everything from desserts to technology, but I think Lent is misunderstood — he’s neither a foodie nor an electronics geek.
The passion of Lent is Christ.
Lent’s concern isn’t in receiving something but Someone. The annual sojourn calls for a more focused relationship with God. So maybe there’s a better question we need to ask one another every year: “What are you trying to receive through Lent?”
For my husband and me, we want more of Jesus.
As we accept this sacred solicitation with sincerity, God meets us open-armed with His goodness and grace. The transformative power of Christ awakens in our lives.
Such times set apart for pursuing God — both separately and together — help couples talk more openly about God. One of the questions Leif and I plan to wrestle through together this year is, “What do you most need to read but least want to hear?” We want to be sensitive to the transformational aspect of Bible reading as a couple. That each of us, husband and wife, will be people who don’t just hear but do. We want to produce a fruitfulness in our lives together.
The Lenten season invites couples to set apart time during the beginning of each year to slough off the excess in our lives so that we may live lighter and holier lives. For 40 days, Lent gives us the opportunity to live in gentle receptivity of God. This invitation is open to everyone. Come. Join us.
Margaret Feinberg is a popular speaker and bestselling author of Fight Back With Joy: Regret Less. Celebrate More. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears. Margaret’s updated reading plans for Lent can be found at margaretfeinberg.com.