"But Lent is for the pagans!" – From Grape Juice to Red Wine Part II


This is the second installment in “From Grape Juice to Red Wine”,  a series about evangelicals finding themselves on the path to liturgy. For more information on the series, read this.

In the two-and-a-half decades of my Christian life, I’ve practiced Lent once.

When I was 13 years old, I read an article in Guideposts for Teens that said Lent prepares our hearts for Easter. It gave some examples of things to do to practice Lent, such fasting from candy or spending more time in prayer instead of at the movies. The concept appealed to me, so I decided to forgo dessert for six weeks.

About halfway into the season, I told my friend from church about my Lent fast and how Jesus was helping me prepare my heart for Easter through it. This might sound weird that a teenage girl would strike up this type of conversation with a friend, but we were a different breed of teen. (About 80 percent of our conversations revolved around what we were learning in our quiet times, and what qualities we wanted in our future husbands.)

“Wait, you’re practicing Lent?” She asked, bewildered. “That’s not a Christian practice!”

“But I read about it in a Christian magazine,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not Christian. I think it’s Catholic.”

We went to the kind of evangelical church that labeled Catholics as pagans. From the pulpit, the pastor questioned if we’d be seeing Catholics in heaven. My friend and I discussed this issue and decided that some Catholics could be saved, but only if they did not pray to Mary or with beads, and only if they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which we were taught to be very hard to come by in the Catholic Church.

When I think back to that fearful, judgmental little girl, I wince.

I can’t remember if I stuck with the dessert fast for the remaining weeks, but either way, its spiritual worth was killed.

For so many of my years in church, Easter seemed to sneak up on me. I’d be sitting through a sermon series on tithing in March as Peeps and chocolate bunnies start to take over grocery store displays across town, then BAM – all of a sudden we’re singing “Christ Arose” and eating deviled eggs at a post-service potluck.

I longed for something else, but I couldn’t put words to it. I still am not fully able to articulate it, but I may have found what I’m searching for in the rhythms of the Anglican calendar – in the anticipation for Easter in Lent, in the solemn poetry of Ash Wednesday liturgy, in six weeks of repentance before a joyous celebration.

Fifteen years after my first encounter with the pagan tradition, I’ve decided to practice Lent again.

At Family Eucharist this Sunday – a service in which the liturgy and music is traditional Anglican but geared for children – the rector spoke briefly about the significance of Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“Lent is a time we take care of our bodies and hearts because even though we came from dust, our lives are important to God,” he said.

Though his words were for children, they spoke deeply to me.

Since this is my first real Lent, I’m keeping things simple. I’ll focus on eating wholesome food from the earth. I’ll practice graciousness with others. I will try to talk less, and listen more.

I’m also committing to spend just 10 minutes of solitude per day. No grand gesture of godliness, just 10 minutes set every day to listen, pray, unclutter my mind, admit I’m wrong.

I relish how much this small, modest practice makes my old fundie self writhe. As much as that girl wants to make it about Doing All The Things, and Winning Gold Stars For God, I’m not letting her ruin Lent for me. I’m resisting the urge to make it a spiritual marathon.

Instead, I’ll be taking care of my body and heart because they are important to God.

 I shared this post at Elizabeth Esther’s Gentle Lent Linkup



  1. Kelly Cone on March 4, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Lent is the best thing that ever happened to our family 🙂

  2. Stephanie on March 5, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Yes. Amen.

  3. elizabethesther on March 5, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Oh, Carly. I’m all sniffly and weepy right now reading this. THIS is my story, too. Thank you for taking the journey toward liturgy. I’m BEYOND privileged to witness. xo.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 6, 2014 at 10:13 am

      Aw, shucks, EE. Thank you for being such an influential part of this journey.

  4. Amber-Lee on March 6, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I love Lent. I feel like, as a church, we have a better grasp on the concept of community during Lent than any other season of the year.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      This is what I am learning too. It’s a really special time.

  5. Juliet Birkbeck on March 7, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Well, I was one of the pagans and now I’m reading your post on Lent and it’s helping me with my preparation! Sometimes God must laugh a lot.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      Oh I know… And I think if we could see how our lives would unfold we’d be laughing along with him.

  6. on March 8, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    This was a gentle reminder to me to participate more fully in Lent. I sometimes just skip from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Thank you for this honest post.

  7. lthompson513 on March 11, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Love this! I really love the Lent, and also the Advent, seasons of reflection. I love that tradition of liturgy. It makes me feel part of something bigger–an outward sign of inward grace, as I heard a lot growing up in the Methodist church.

    The part about Catholicism made me chuckle. I grew up with pretty forward-thinking parents in a fundamentalist community, so when my Baptist friends told me that Catholics were not Christian, I, more than once, reminded them just how much of their worship services and faith practices came from the Catholic church. I was not very popular. 🙂

  8. William McPherson on March 28, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I practiced Lent last year; it was definitely a different experience. I used N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone as I spent time with God. I am starting to truly appreciate preparation through Advent and Lent, and other traditions that help secular people remember that they are also very much spiritual beings. I think that these practices are very helpful if they guide us to seeking God’s face in prayer and Scripture. We could all use more reminders of why we celebrate and what the implications of those things are for our walk with God. If you say, “Well, I do not believe in ritual remembrance,” my response to you is, “Great! So, how do you keep God on the forefront of your mind?” The answer from most Evangelicals is well…shameful and reveals our practical atheism.

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