The author was determined to get a closer look at Notre Dame Cathedral during a November 2008 visit to Paris, France. Photo: Pastor Ben Palm

I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Paris, France back in November 2008. My friend and I spent a day in the city on a tour bus, driving past many recognizable locations. One of those locations was Notre Dame. The bus slowed as the tour guide talked about the famous church and some of its history. I snapped a few photos as quickly as I could, and on we drove to the next location.

For some people, that would have been enough. But it wasn’t enough for me. At the end of our bus tour, my friend went back to our hotel, but I stayed. I needed to see more. Armed with a paper map the tour guide gave me and the money in my pocket, I made my way to the church I had glimpsed from my tour bus window for less than a minute.

Pastor Ben Palm

It took me a little while to figure out how to navigate the underground metro system, but with the help of a couple locals, I finally got off at the right stop and walked up the stairs toward street level. As I exited, I was greeted with one of the most beautiful sights—the front of Notre Dame and the two bell towers were staring right at me, beautifully illuminated by floodlights in the crisp evening weather. I just stood there and marveled for a couple minutes, taking in every detail. The majesty of the towers. The intricacy of the sculpting work. It was incredible. And for some people, that would have been enough. But not for me.

I wanted to get inside, but it was closed to the public. The guard informed me that a church service was in progress. I’m sure that deterred many people, but not me. I kindly asked if I could go inside, explaining that I was visiting from the United States. He let me enter, and I was once again treated to beauty beyond imagination. I got to marvel at the architecture, the paintings, the decorations, and even the acoustics as the people inside sang a hymn to close out the service. Once the singing ended, I walked out with everyone else and got to hear the famous bells of Notre Dame announcing the conclusion of the evening mass. It was magical.

That whole experience taught me that there is always something greater available if you take the time to look for it. If you take the time to pursue it.

February 22 was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, observed by Christians from many different types of churches. Lent is traditionally 40 days of fasting, or abstaining from certain things, in observance of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert (recorded in the Bible in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Many people will give up a pleasure during those 40 days—caffeine, social media, sweets, gossip. And for them, that would be enough. Once the 40 days conclude, they go right back to partaking in those things. Friends, there is something greater available!

If you are participating in Lent, or if you have ever fasted from something for a season of time, I encourage you to grab on to something greater than just abstaining for that period of time. Rather, use your time of fasting to take steps towards a better life. A more fulfilled life.

Don’t engage in a season of fasting to simply check a box. Rather, use the season to look for the something greater you’re being invited to. Maybe God is wanting you to spend less time on social media and more time in social settings, looking people in the eye. Maybe you choose to reduce your sugar intake so that you have more energy to spend running outside with your loved ones. Maybe this is your first step toward removing animosity toward others and rather welcoming someone in your life that needs a friend.

This Lenten season, whether you observe it or not, there is something greater available to you. Take some time and pursue it. You won’t regret it!

Ben Palm is the outreach pastor at Morgan Hill Bible Church and a member of the Interfaith Clergy Alliance. He is also a chaplain for the Morgan Hill Police Department. Ben can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Thank you for your great example. As one raised in a church that celebrated Lent, it was always a challenge to give up something and stick to. It seemed I was always missing the reason for doing so and focused on the item I was fasting from. As a child I could not really understand or attach my fasting to the One I was supposed to honor. Today I understand the action of giving up something is to embrace the “something greater” the One who is worthy of all or attention. So if it is drawing you closer to Jesus it is wonderful to fast. But for me I have turned it to spending 40 days of devotion to Jesus for what He has done for me fixing my eyes on Him as I annually journey with Him to the cross through the Easter season.

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