Why Lent is great for marriage and family life
By Brendan Malone
For many Christians today marks the beginning of the season of Lent.
For those unfamiliar with Lent, it is the 40 days (Sundays are excluded) leading up to Easter Sunday.
It is a period modelled on the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), and as such it is usually marked by some form of fast, a more specific focus in prayer, and time set aside for self-giving acts of charity.
When most people think of Lent, they think of giving something up for 40 days (like chocolate, or watching a favourite TV show, etc.), but how many people think about marriage and family when they hear the word 'Lent'?
Interestingly, and purely by chance, the start of Lent this year also happens to coincide with Marriage Week here in New Zealand, and I can't help but see the profound importance of the link between these two things.
You see, for marriage and family life to be truly fruitful and life-giving, just as God has intended it to be, it has to be built on a commitment to self-sacrifice and self-giving without counting the cost.
A marriage will not last long if the husband and wife have no desire at all to sacrifice their own wants and desires in order to seek the good of the other.
And a family where no one is interested in giving of themselves for the good of the other members is one that is destined to become fractured and possibly even toxic to the wellbeing and flourishing of its members and those they encounter in life.
So, what lies at the heart of Lent - a renewed focus on sacrifice and self-giving - is exactly what lies at the heart of God's plan for marriage and family life.
Just consider Ephesians 5, where Paul teaches about 'instructions for Christian households.'
The teaching begins with this profoundly important declaration (emphasis added): "submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ."
In other words, marriage and family begins with sacrifice and self-giving, and it can only continue to exist and flourish while their is sacrifice and self-giving.
This means that Lent is the perfect time for married couples and families to reorientate themselves again on what lies at the heart of their vocation: a commitment to self-sacrifice and self-giving motivated by love for Christ and each other.
If you've never done it before, participating in Lent is pretty straightforward and it only really encompasses three components:
1. Making a commitment to make a sacrifice of some kind, by giving up something that you would normally enjoy doing, for the next 40 days leading up to Easter.
This sacrifice can be big or small, but it should be meaningful - in other words, it should be something that actually requires you to make a sacrifice by going without it for the next few weeks.
2. Making a commitment to regularly participate in some extra form of self-giving for the sake of others for the next 40 days.
This would usually involve some form of charitable care or service of the poor or other vulnerable members of our families, church or wider community.
3. Maintaining a special focus in our daily prayer during these next 40 days on the great sacrifice and love of Christ and the gift he made for all of us on the cross, as well as seeking His help to be more like Him in humility and love for God and neighbour.
This might seem like a bit of a dour time of loss, but in actual fact Lent is supposed to be all about love - the authentic kind, the pinnacle of which is witnessed on the cross at Calvary, and which should motivate us to seek God and the good of those around us ahead of our own wants and desires.
What marriage or family couldn't do with more of that?