Lent as Spring Training
Lent is to the Christian life what Spring Training is to baseball.
Spring training is a time for getting in shape, practicing basic skills, and learning to play your position better. That doesn’t mean you stop practicing and learning once the season starts, though. When it starts, you continue to prepare and practice. Does that mean spring training isn’t important? Not at all! It’s a necessary time of preparing and getting ready so that one is ready to plan when the season starts. How can you play when you’re out of shape?
Lent functions much the same way. It’s a time to focus on basics: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, study and reflection. Observing Lent does not mean that this is the only time of the year when we do such things, but it is a time when we focus on them, the basics of Christian living. It’s a time to remember that there are disciplines in the Christian life and a time to practice them.
Ball players practice the same things over and over again. If you haven’t touched a baseball since the end of the previous season, it takes time to re-cultivate the skills needed to make a double play, for example. The shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman practice double plays over and over and over again so they can do them without thinking about what they’re doing, so that they happen instinctively in the shortest amount of time as possible.
`Like spring training, Lent is where we look at the state of our lives, with the help of God’s Spirit, and see what needs improving. What habits have snuck in that are crowding out good habits? Have we become careless in prayer or Bible reading? Where has the money gone that should have been budgeted for tithing and almsgiving?
We don’t need a special time to do these things, of course. But, having a set time every year for examining the state of our lives helps us to do so during the rest of the year. As one wise writer put it, "The truth is, we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying some of the time somewhere" (John Dalrymple). What’s true of prayer is true of the other spiritual practices of the Christian life. To have a yearly, Lenten set-aside time for looking at our finances in light of tithing helps insure we’re sharing our wealth wisely the rest of the year. Being part of a prayer group during Lent helps insure we’re praying seriously the rest of the year. Letting God apply virtue to our vice-ridden lives in Lent helps live godly lives the rest of the year.
Maybe the spring training analogy isn’t helpful for you. If so, think of it like this. We see the doctor yearly for a check-up, right? We want someone who knows what they’re doing to give us a once-over, so that someone who’s wiser and better trained than we are can listen to our heart and lungs and look in our ears and eyes. Their job is to notice what we don’t. (“That mole looks iffy. . . “)
We see the doctor because we want to be healthy and not sick. Lent serves much the same purpose. It’s a special time where we can appear before God and see ourselves as He sees us. We let the Bible speak to us and diagnose us. We see our checkbook in light of God’s kindness and generosity, and our datebook as well.
We often leave the doctor’s office with instructions and prescriptions, the purpose of which is to get our body functioning as it should: more exercise, less sugar and fat, see a specialist.
A good Lent does much the same. It deposits us at Easter with God’s instructions and prescriptions, which, if followed, make us more like Christ.