Christians view the Season of Lent as an opportunity for reflection and sacrifice. As Presbyterians, our Lenten practices differ slightly from other Christian denominations. This edition of the youth column poses the question, “Why do you think Presbyterians give something up as well as incorporating new practices into our life during Lent, and what does that mean to you? How do our practices compare to other Christian denominations?” The responses below come from two BMPC youth members.
Katie McGuirl (11th grade)
Every year I try to give up chocolate or coffee (though that only started as I’ve gotten older), and every year so far I have failed. This year I cracked just a week in, eating s’mores at the youth retreat. Even though I stopped again after the retreat, I still felt a little guilty. Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights and had the strength to fast the entire time! Yet I cannot go even a month before caving and eating a piece of chocolate.
Thankfully, I know that God loves us even with our faults. I ask God for forgiveness, return to abstaining from chocolate, and work on forgiving myself. But forgiving myself can be difficult in part because of the different ways I’ve seen other denominations practice Lent. I’ve watched my friends of different denominations feel very guilty when they mess up during Lent. And I even had friends berate me for eating meat on Fridays when I was too young to understand or explain the differences in religious practice. I did not know what they meant or why Presbyterians do not follow this Lenten tradition.
Even still, Lent holds a special significance for me, giving up something almost every year, culminating in attending the sunrise service on Easter morning. Lent continues to be an important practice in my Presbyterian faith and a time of year when I seek to be attentive to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Vivian Hattersley (10th grade)
Growing up as a Presbyterian, I have always been acutely aware of the differences between how my family and others in my church practiced Lent versus how my friends of different denominations did. Having many Catholic friends, I realized the act of “giving something up” was not as heavily emphasized in my church as it was in the Catholic faith. As a result, the flurry of abstaining activity during Lent was always something I felt slightly left out of. It was often a time of the year in which I felt out of place or like I was viewed by some as an inferior Christian.
Although our church does encourage us to abstain from something during Lent, as a youth I was encouraged to give up something small in addition to adding a practice that would bring me closer to God, such as specifying a new time of the day to pray or journal. When I was younger, I saw these differences as something that separated me in a negative way from others who were practicing Lent. However, as I've grown, I have realized the differences in Presbyterian practice are a part of what makes our denomination special. During the times in which I’ve cracked and indulged in what I had initially given up for Lent, I take comfort in the practices I've already incorporated into my life, including asking God for forgiveness.
Throughout our children and youth programs I have made countless mistakes and was often too young to understand them. I didn’t understand why not eating chocolate or drinking soda made you a “better Christian” or brought you closer to God, but the support of my pastors and peers helped me understand how these often seemingly trivial acts can have deep impact behind them. Adding practices to my life during Lent has become something I've grown to love about my faith, and my Lenten experiences have helped me adjust my views on what type of Christian I choose to be. I have learned that giving something up doesn’t define our closeness to God, and that we are not limited to a specific practice when it comes to worship.