Honestly? I’m a little ashamed to admit that this is the first time I’ve EVER associated the 40 days of Lent with the 40 days in the desert –[remember I’ve never attended a church that spoke of Lent very much.] So I decided I needed to do a little research on my own [and googled: "photos Lent", as well] – and I’ll share below what I found. [Forgive me if you’re already familiar with the purpose of Lent – and, please, feel free to share your opinions as well!]
This is some of the info I found on this website: http://www.churchyear.net/lent.html
[Pink highlights are the things that popped out at me – ]
“Many Christians throughout the world observe Lent. Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestants look forward to this annual time of sacrifice and simplicity. For non-Christians, Lent can be a bit of a mystery. For some, Lent is a period of going on a diet; for others, it is when Catholic co-workers show up to work with ashes on their heads, and fast food restaurants start selling fish sandwiches. Many Christians, even those whose churches do not celebrate Lent officially, find they are attracted to Lent. Whatever your theological or denominational affiliation, we highly recommend exploring the season known as Lent.
In basic terms, Lent is the season before Easter, in the West lasting liturgically from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of Holy Thursday exclusive (see General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar). While Sundays are typically excluded from the Lenten fasting and abstinence restrictions, and are not numbered in the traditional "40 Days" of Lent, they are still part of the Lenten season, as can be seen from their Lenten themes.
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. [Me: I love this!!] Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one's head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ.
There are a few basic tasks that traditionally have been associated with Lent. Many of these have a long history. These are fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. In addition, reading the Scriptures and the Church's Writings can help one grow during Lent. Let's look at each of these suggestions individually.
Fasting: The Western Rite of the Catholic Church requires its members age 18 to 59 to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless a physical condition prevents otherwise. This means only one full meal is permitted. The Fridays of Lent are days of required abstinence, meaning meat, and soups or gravies made of meat, are not permitted. Abstinence is required of those age 14 and older.. Most Protestant churches that celebrate Lent do not have these official requirements. However, when we "give something up" for Lent, we are embracing a form of fasting, an excellent spiritual discipline. Eastern Christians have a more rigorous fast, abstaining from meat, wine, oil, dairy products, and even fish. Some people choose to give up sins (gossip, drunkenness, etc) for Lent. In this way, Lent represents a spiritual training time to overcome evil. Pope St. Leo, for example, emphasized that fasting from wrath is required along with food. Some give up things they have an inordinate desire for, e.g. sweets, caffeine, etc. We have listed various things you can give up for Lent here. By giving these up, the person fasting learns to control a particular part of his or her life, which leads to greater self-discipline even when Lent is over. As such in Lent we are able to learn, examine, and get under control our material excesses. Whatever you decide to fast from, remember, as Steven Clark likes to say: "Lent is more than a diet." Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, all fasting should be done for God's glory and spiritual growth.
Prayer: Lent is a good time to develop or strengthen a discipline of daily prayer. Contemplative prayer, based around the idea of silence or listening for God, is also well suited to Lent. We can also find many excellent prayers for Lent from the Scriptures. The Seven Penitential Psalms are excellent for prayer, as is the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh..
Almsgiving (Charity): While Lent is about giving something up (i.e. fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. The best way to remove vice is to cultivate virtue. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor and doing acts of charity and mercy. While as Christians this is a year round calling, Lent is a good time to examine ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them. Giving alms can be done in more ways than just giving out money to people on the street. It can be done by helping your family, friends, and neighbors out of tight situations or being more generous to hired help. However, one of the best ways to give alms is to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, maybe by volunteering for a charity or a shelter. There are many lay religious orders, which devote much of their time to charity. Lent is a perfect time to discern a call to these or any other ministry.
Scripture Reading: When facing temptation in the desert, Jesus relied on Scripture to counter the wiles of the devil. It is a formidable weapon for us as well. Biblical illiteracy among Christians of all types is rampant and, quite honestly, shameful. Lent is an excellent time to remedy this problem. One way to read Scripture is to use the lectionary of the Liturgy of the Hours. This will get you through most of the Bible in two years.”
So there you have it – Lent is about so much more than just ‘giving something up’ – it’s about turning to God [as He so subtlety reminded me the other day when I really, REALLY wanted that little mini snickers bar in our snack bowl] in a renewed and searching way. It’s about growing spiritually and preparing ourselves for the Celebration of the Resurrection. It’s about spending time in prayer, in the scriptures, and looking for ways to help others. [Another little thing God has been putting before me over and over these past few weeks – being mindful to share His Love – in some way, no matter how small – with at least one person every day.] Won't you join me for observance of the remainder of Lent? You can share here, or you can keep it deeply personal. But I encourage to use these next days as a way to draw near to God as we prepare to celebrate the greatest gift we’ve ever been given – forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life with our Father in Heaven.