In a few days Lent begins. For Catholics as well as for many Protestants, Lent is a chance to examine our lives to see what things might be standing in the way of our relationship with Christ. It is a time to look inward and to seek healing. Lent a time to unite with our fellow believers and, as a community, as a family, do penance and call out to our God for forgiveness. Lent is a time of tremendous Grace.
So why do I dread it? Aside from the obvious reason – Lent means sacrifice, and I don’t like to give up things I like – there’s the less obvious reason. I’m a wishy washy penitent. I start out giving up one thing and then a few days or week in, I think of something else that would have been better. So I give that up too. I decide to do one thing and then wish I were doing another. So I add that too. By the end, my Lent is often disorganized and marginally fruitful. So to better prepare myself this year, I’ve done some research. Here are a few traditional Lenten sacrifices and practices to consider.
Medieval sacrifices. Under the old rules people gave up eggs, butter, sugar, lard, and meat. Notice the conjunction in the previous sentence is and nor or. One of these? Maybe. All of them? That would basically mean existing on nothing but veggies and carbs. I guess I could live for 40 days on grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Wait. Tomatoes aren’t in season. Moving on…
One meal a day. In addition to giving up nearly every food makes life worth living, folks of the middle ages were only allowed one meal a day during Lent. That seems doable – provided that one meal lasted about three hours and I got to sleep 14 hours a day.
No caffeine. Again, were 14 hours of sleep an option, this might work, but as it is I’d rather live on a daily diet of out-of-season tomatoes than give up my morning coffee.
No sweets. This one is actually my go-to lenten sacrifice. But I’ve recently given up sugar for health reasons, so it seems kind of redundant to do it now.
No sex. Once again, moving on….
No socialmedia. Okay. Okay. This is an option. Certainly giving up Facebook would free up my time for prayer and spiritual reading Giving up Pinterest would cut down on my feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. And I guess the Insta-world could do with a few less pictures of my children and my ducks. But no FB means no talking to my dear friend who lives in Mexico or my other dear friend in Texas. It means missing out on posts, articles, and groups that support me as a mother, a writer, and a Christian. I’m not sure the benefits of giving up FB would outweigh the benefits of I get from it. But I will limit myself to once a day. Maybe even once or twice a week. But I don’t think a cold turkey Facebook boycott is the key to my spiritual growth.
So, what is the key? I think maybe the key to a fruitful lent is not giving things up, but rather taking things on. This year for lent, I plan to take on more prayer, more scripture reading, more kindness, and more silence. Naturally to make time for these things, I will have to give up, or at least cut back on, some other things – social media, TV, wasting time. And I’ll need a plan. I know from experience I can’t just say that I’ll do better and expect it to miraculously happen. I’ll have to set aside time. Choose books. Look for ways to be kinds. And seek silence. I’ll have to be intentional. But most of all, I will have to trust. Even with the best laid plans, my lenten exercises will be for naught if I don’t ask Jesus for His grace and guidance.
Lent is not a to-do and to-don’t list to be checked off. It is a time for renewal and healing. Yes, it is a time set aside to enter into the desert with Jesus, but the point of our time in the desert is not merely to suffer (although there is value in suffering for Christ), but rather to be freed (even if only in small ways) from the world, so we can walk more closely with Him. I’d love to hear what you are doing for lent this year. Let’s pray for one another.
Books and practices to consider for lent that don’t involve giving up chocolate, caffeine, or sex…
- I read Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitely last year. It is truly life altering.
- The Grace of Yes! by Lisa Hendey is on the top of my reading list.
- Right now I’m reading Shadowplay by Clare Asquith. It is about the hidden meaning (a criticism of Elizabeth’s anti-Catholic reign) in his plays. It’s not exactly spiritual reading, but anything that draws us to truth and beauty is of spiritual value.
- It’s hard for me to find space in my life for God when it seems like every closet, cabinet and drawer in my home is full to overflowing. I know that part of cleansing soul is going to have to involve de-cluttering my life.
- I’m going to have to make the most of my time alone and listen for God’s still, small voice.
- Like most families, we are busy, tired, and easily distracted. I’m sorry to say that often in the winter our family time consists of a movie night. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t serve to bring us closer together. God blesses us and encourages us in our families. This year, my family is going to drag out some of our board games and have fun together whether we like it or not.
- Lenten journaling will be an excellent way to stay intentional about my plans and to reflect on how God is working in my life this season.