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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Living Lent

Confirmation class 1983

Maybe I was a bit of an odd child. Serious natured to be sure. Always drawn to sacred things. Holy spaces. I loved church. The church of my childhood was Lutheran. It was my daddy’s church and his family’s before him. Cross of Glory. Even its name has a somber feel. And yet the memories I have there are anything but solemn. Church was a happy space.

I always feel a bit nostalgic around the season of Lent. As far as I remember our family did nothing to observe 40 days of fasting—giving up sugar or meat or some other indulgence. That strange practice was unique to my Catholic classmates, for whom the school cafeteria prepared fish on Fridays. What I remember at Cross of Glory was Wednesday night church. “Lenten Services” we called them, and in my mind they were dear. Lighting candles, extra singing, someone performing a solo. Sometimes the soloist was me. From a young age I somehow got on the rotation for one Wednesday of the seven, bringing “special music” to our congregation. 

My husband grew up in the Evangelical Free Church, the denomination in which we raised our children. “Extra church” was commonplace for him. Their family attended church whenever its doors were open, which was often. Twice on Sundays. Every Wednesday, Lent or not. I do not believe the “church calendar” guided their appearances as much as holy obligation. To this day Kyle carries a bit of resentment when he remembers being dragged away from Sunday evening TV and The Wonderful World of Disney, in exchange for round #2 in the pews. This is not to say his upbringing did him damage. It was in fact Kyle’s faith that drew me to love him as a college young man. 

Years ago when I was on staff at the Free Church there were a few of us with inclinations toward Lent traditions, and our senior pastor gave us the green light to implement some practices. I wrote 40-day devotionals, and created a fairly complex Journey to the Cross family experience. For a few years we hosted Ash Wednesday services, often led by the youth department. It was at one such service where, instead of placing the customary ash cross on our foreheads, we ashed our crosses on commitment cards, along with our written pledge to sacrifice something. Kyle, at the time, was under a lot of stress, and no doubt inspired by the Holy Spirit, he chose to give up “WORRY” for Lent. God accepted his offering. The worry that had been plaguing him never came back, and his ash-adorned card still sits on his desk. 

During my Lutheran days, the most astonishing transformation took place between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I remember creeping quietly into a Friday sanctuary, taking note of the long black swaths of fabric draping altar and pulpit and the massive wooden cross. I sat in utter silence through the entire service, not once needing Dad’s pinching reminder to settle. We recited creeds. Sang hymns in minor. We took communion. And then—still silent—we left. 

We left knowing we’d be back. 

Two sleeps. Third day. Day after tomorrow. And then…

We returned to this very space, but oh my goodness, was it different. So. Much. Different. Black forgotten, we skipped giddy into a sanctuary lavish with lilies and trumpets and laughter and singing—and SO MUCH WHITE. 


Seven weeks of somber, one Friday to observe the death, and then LIFE. LIFE. LIFE. 

It’s one thing to hear a sermon, and another altogether to live it. 

When our boys were young I went to great lengths to give them Good Friday. They’d have the day off of school and I’d pull shades and light candles and turn off lights. All day I’d lead my little flock through a sacred experience of remembering and feeling and entering the night. Late afternoon we’d head to the Free Church for a solemn service, and by bedtime my kids would be begging for light. Our littlest made us all laugh when he started calling our practice “Black Friday.” 


Over the years the Fridays before Easter were more often than not prime afternoons for baseball games, and Lent was usurped by spring break vacations. Of course there was church on Easter, followed by lunch and an egg hunt at Grammy’s. I’ll never forget Felipe’s first Easter with us and his confusion over a popular tradition. “Why the Rabbit of Pascua?” Apparently Colombian tradition did not include an Easter Bunny. 

This year Ash Wednesday shared calendar space with Valentine’s Day as well as Youth Group. This morning I exchanged remnants of an Advent wreath for an Ann Voskamp inspired candle ring. 40 days to Easter, but if I’m being entirely honest, my mental countdown is set first to a California visit with a son and his wife in early March. My current church does its fasting in January, making a Lent fast rather anti-climatic, and thus far I’ve given up nothing. I’m over my head in Bible studies and books I’m half-done reading, so even my stash of Lent devotionals seem like overkill. And yet. Something stirs within me. A memory and a rhythm and a holy desire. 

The cross awaits. 

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