Yesterday some of my Journey friends mentioned they’re having a difficult time coming up with a Lenten practice, or needed a basic rundown on how this whole Lent thing works, and asked if I could put together a little cheat sheet or conversation starter to help them think through it. None of this is ground-breaking but I thought it may be helpful for others as well, so I’m posting it here. And yes, there’s still plenty of time to choose something. :)
During Lent, many of us choose to give up or add something to our lives that will help us become more faithful. We choose to give up something that may be getting in the way of us seeing God. We choose to take up something that will help us see God more clearly. We may choose to do both. (It often works in tandem, because when we take something away we have space for something new, and vice versa.) Whatever our practices, the goal is to focus for 40 days on drawing closer to God and neighbor, that we may fulfill the basic commandments of the gospel.
Here’s the thing about Lent at Journey: it doesn’t run on the engine of guilt or shame. Introspection, yes. Honesty, yes. But the first thing to consider is that this is meant to be a life-giving practice for 40 days. It’s supposed to help you love God more fully, to become more whole, to help you match your beliefs with your actions. This is why we call it a practice, because that’s exactly what it is- it’s practice. Lent is like a spiritual practices training camp season. (Easter is the big game in this analogy, clearly.) In thinking about the pain/suffering component that comes along with doing something for 40 days that’s outside of your normal routine, think of it like you do physical exercise. You know it’s good for you. Some days you really don’t like it and don’t want to do it. Some days it actually hurts. But in the end, you do feel better. Nobody goes to two-a-days for the sheer pain of it. They go to get better at something, to put in the hours of practice that will hopefully get some results. What do you want to do better this Lenten season? What skill do you want to hone?
So what to give up and/or take up? Here are a few questions that may help, as well as a few practical ideas (which are just meant to help you get thinking):
Think about your connection with God. Are there places where you feel more distant than others? In what ways could you try to bridge that distance? What practices bring you closest to God? How can you incorporate more of that, more consistently, over the next 40 days?
- Scripture: read the Bible every day, practice Lectio Divina, read the Psalms every morning and night, read a book (or two) of the Bible you’re least familiar with, memorize a verse or verses you find meaningful
- Prayer: commit yourself to pray daily, make a list of “enemies” and spend 40 days praying for them, read the news in the morning and spend an hour praying in response, make a prayer rope and use it consistently, try silent prayer only for 40 days, try praying the divine hours, pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning and night, pray only for other people, pray by making art or doodling
- Go to church every Sunday in Lent
- Read a theology book. (Bonus: be bold and pick one that will stretch you a little, or one whose author comes from a different culture or denominational background or perspective than you.)
There are HGH things we say we value and believe, but often those things don’t always shine through in our actions. What is one thing you deeply value or believe that you could live out more fully?
- Justice: find a cause that you believe in and give time every day or every week to helping an organization related to that cause, give money or plan a fundraiser to support your cause, host a rally or a documentary screening about your cause to bring awareness, blog about it
- Poverty: go through your stuff and give things away , don’t buy anything new for 40 days, tithe to a non-profit organization
- Hunger: simplify your meals for 40 days and eat only rice/beans for dinner and donate the saved grocery money to a local food bank, eat only what is necessary (you’ll be amazed at how much we consume just because we can), volunteer once a week to help out at a food bank or soup kitchen
- Environment: recycle or compost for 40 days if you don’t already, try driving less and biking/walking more, find ways to reduce your electricity, eat less meat and fish, give up hot showers, go 40 days without using any paper or plastic cups or takeout boxes by bringing your own reusable containers, use only reusable bags
We all have places in our lives that need work. For most of us, there are a few traits or habits that tend to stick around with alarming consistency. What can you do to dismantle those things? What practice can help you be more like the person of Christ in that area?
- Practice one or more of the fruits of the Spirit
- Give up: gossip, sarcasm, negativity, yelling, cursing. On the flip side, you could add in: random acts of kindness, complimenting others freely, saying thank you, keeping a gratitude journal
- Give up: resentment, anger, jealousy, manipulation, impatience. Take up: forgiveness, reconciliation, love, grace, patience, peace.
- If you tend to think badly of yourself: give up your shame for Lent. Spend 40 days trying to wrap your head around how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is for you. Think of all the gifts God has uniquely given you and how they can be of great benefit to this world.
- If you tend to think highly of yourself: take up humility for Lent. Make it a practice to go around noticing (and mentioning) all the ways others do things well (and better) than you do. Think of all the gifts God has given all of the people around you and how only if everyone uses them together can they be of great benefit to this world. Make room for other people to shine.
- Technology: Stop being on your gadget when you are supposed to be talking to people (or driving). Put your phone away every night after 9pm. Give up Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. Check email only 3X a day. Give up TV or video games.
- Give up desserts, sweets, chocolate, soda pop, coffee, alcohol, red meat, all meat, smoking
- Give up buying something (or everything): clothes, coffee, books, dining out, new music, new apps
Hope these guiding questions and suggestions help. Whatever you choose, may it bring your heart closer to God, and your actions more in line with your heart.