If you only paid attention to the mainstream media, you would be forgiven for thinking that Lent is all about fasting in response to Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, and not much else. But as Christians, we know that there are in fact three important elements that help shape the behaviour of those participating in observing the season in this way. Each one has its own significance and they all connect with the other. Here's a brief look at each component.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," - Matthew 6:3
Almsgiving or helping those in need - As we go without certain luxuries, we are reminded of those who don't have a say in whether they are denied the things that we often take for granted. It's extremely fitting that we devote extra time and energy to giving to those who have less or are in need of help and support at a time when we are reflecting on Jesus' sacrifice and what it meant means for us, while also concentrating on consuming less.
"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." - Matthew 6:6
Prayer - Prayer is essential in maintaining a relationship with God. Alongside the two other elements of Lenten observance, we can use this time to pray more deeply as we remove some of the distractions from our lives and focus in on the central teachings of our faith. Helping those in need and fasting simultaneously encourage us to look at what we have to be thankful for in our lives and listen more carefully to what God is calling us to do.
"But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face," - Matthew 6:17
Fasting - The practice of Lenten fasting or penance is one that is best known but it's virtuousness is made greater when it is carried out in with prayer and almsgiving. Most of the time our Lenten fast is a greatly symbolic act. We know that we will survive without whatever we choose to abstain from during the period. But this in no way diminishes the power of fasting and what it represents. Denying ourselves something during Lent enables us to shift our focus away from our own wants and towards the needs of others.