Toward Lent: Contemplating Forty Days

by Christine Sine

Contemplating 40 Days of Lent

Kathie Hempel

‘They’ say bad habits can be changed in 21 days. I don’t think that is true for me. There are times I barely make it through the first day. I think maybe science needed to listen more to God.

Approaching Lent this year, I think of the 40 day periods mentioned so often in the Bible. Is it maybe that a mere three weeks seems so short in today’s busy world that we think, “f it doesn’t work, it is easy to stop and just start over?” I don’t know.

I do know that when I consider giving anything up for 40 days dedicated to God, I take it more seriously.

Those who have studied this number say God used it to impress upon us our times of trouble and hardship. I could make that sound religious, as if God sent me the trials of my life, but notice that in the Bible, just as with my own times of trouble and hardship, more often than not, these were notably bought on, by those suffering, themselves. Rather cuts down on the moaning and groaning of “poor pity me” when I consider that.

During the mighty flood, 40 days and nights of rain destroyed much of the world, God created and loved, with flooding because of the evil and disobedience in the world at that time. That it only took 40 days to obliterate all I see is rather intimidating. But then comes the promise I remember every time I see a rainbow. It makes me believe that though his power can wipe out the entire planet, his desire is always to make it beautiful for us.

Since the time of that promise 40 days (and at times years!), it seems to me, is used as a teaching tool to give us time to improve our lives: to show us it takes time. Father teach me I must use the time, you allow me, to learn patiently. May I seek not the achievement of the goal as much as the lessons learned on the journey.

Moses fled to the desert for nearly 40 years after killing the Egyptian in response to seeing his true countrymen abused. Seems to me that being Egyptian royalty he might have assumed he could expect to avoid punishment. However, ‘something’ moved him to tend sheep in Midian for all those years in preparation for what was to come.

When Moses climbed Mount Sinai, after entering the midst of the holy cloud, he remained there for 40 days and nights listening to and learning from God. Oh Lord, would I would be lost in that learning for my life’s good, so intensely that time no longer mattered.

After descending the mount with the tablets, again the people had lost patience and decided an idol of their own making would be more useful. Moses, in his distress, falls to his knees and for 40 days and nights fasted from all food and water, praying the people would not be destroyed for their foolish ways again, as with the flood. Even though he had smashed the tablets, that held the Commandments/life lessons sent by God for the people, when his days of praying and fasting were ended: God returned to the lesson. Interesting that both the time with God and the time spent praying for his mercy and grace were equal.

That these two periods of 40 days and nights were held within the 40 years of roaming the desert seems significant to me, at this time. In fact, to them we must add the 40 days the spies spent scoping out the Promised Land and then refused to enter. We humans are not prone to learning or trusting our lessons of the past easily, it would seem.

Goliath was allowed to belittle Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to end the standoff. After Jonah ran from God’s request, he, like Moses, eventually had to return to the original message—the lesson. The people of Nineveh were given 40 days to learn and practice the lessons and it seems they did. Yet their success angered Jonah.

Lord let me not forget my own inadequacies when viewing the success of others, but let me search only to excel in the lessons you have for me.

Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the desert was allowed to last for 40 days and nights. God’s own son had to endure such! Why should I, the adopted child, expect a life without challenges? I think of all the times I have refused the lessons, even been angry with God for daring to allow me to hurt after giving in to the temptations in my life. Who do I imagine myself to be, Lord?

The disciples were given an extra 40 days between resurrection and ascension to reflect upon their time with Jesus, to learn new lessons and establish his church. Even then, the Spirit was given to us all so that we would always have ready guidance. If only we would turn from the temptations to trust ourselves alone and to ask for Divine help.

What is the meaning of these 40 days of Lent? Am I meant to simply choose on my own to give up chocolate and then pat myself on the back as I pick it back up on the 41st day?

Father, please allow me to use this period of 40 days to surrender those parts of my life that still misuse the free will you so graciously have given me to choose. Prompt me to ask you what those are that most greatly offend you. May I choose carefully my commitments to you, not just during Lent but always, willing to make the lessons, I learn from surrendering these things, the work of a lifetime. May I be wise enough to use this time to serve others, to better serve you.

Teach me to consider these 40 days of Lent, like the 40 years in the desert, not to be some temporary period of ‘suffering’ but as a time of great learning. May I consider them as more an admonition to be better than the counting of days, just as Jesus spoke to Peter about forgiveness. He told him to forgive not seven times but 70 times seven. Didn’t that message mean we shouldn’t be counting in the first place?

Forgiveness seems a good place to start. May I forgive those for whom I hold any animosity and may I not pick it up again. May I place a greater importance on what you hold important and use these 40 days to begin the conscious process of real change in my life. I can’t do it alone. Use those, you have put in my life, with similar longings, as mutual support and mentors for the journey. May I begin each of these 40 days with you as my hope and strength for the future.

Beloved, hold me close each day that I may show your light to the world through Lent and beyond. Amen.


You may also like


Bev Wilson January 27, 2016 - 8:29 pm

Thank you, Katherine – for this encouraging and challenging post on Lent !

The Orchard Community February 9, 2016 - 11:44 am

[…] “Toward Lent: Contemplating Forty Days”, Kathie Hempel  “Lent Is About Transformation”, Richard Rohr “Entering Lent”, Ronald Rolheiser […]

Leave a Comment