“Lent is springtime. It’s preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death…trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.” — Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
What I love about the church calendar and living within its rhythms is that it helps me reorient myself, to the Story of God, to the Person of Christ, and remind me what (or rather who) is at the center of all things. Every year, I know that whether I feel like it or not, Lent comes to ask me that question, “How have I gotten away from the Lord and how can I return to him with all my heart?”
It may involve giving up something that I’ve grown overly attached to; it may mean taking on a new spiritual practice; it may involve delving into devotional reading or saying confession or maybe learning how to not be so intense about my spiritual disciplines and just play more!
Below are some ideas or perhaps they will inspire something entirely new. Don’t let it overwhelm you! Read through it and perhaps one will resonate or stick with you as the one you feel drawn to commit to:
10 Questions to Ask: This comes from Rachel Held Evans. Take 20-30 minutes sometime before Ash Wednesday and journal about one or more of these questions. You may have a better sense of what Lenten practice would be helpful for you afterwards.
1. When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?
2. From what do I need to repent?
3. Is there one particular sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? How do I address that sin over the next 40 days?
4. Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?
5. What distractions most commonly interfere with my time in prayer/Scripture?
6. What spiritual discipline do I need to improve upon or want to try?
7. What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t?
8. Why am I giving this particular thing up? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
9. What am I going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?
10. Is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature my fast with others or should I keep it private?
Give Something Up: During Lent, we can choose to give up something that has become an attachment or source of comfort and dependence that we turn to: certain kinds of food and drink, social media, shopping, etc. as an expression of our desire to turn to God and depending on him more fully. We can choose to give up negative things that come out of our mouths (or our virtual mouth on social media): criticizing, gossiping, snapping at people, saying disparaging things about others.
Take Something On: We can also take on spiritual practices to realign our hearts toward God such as daily Scripture reading; “giving alms” to the poor (e.g. one parishioner would keep twenty $1 bills in her purse and give them out to anyone on the street or subway asking for money. There’s a stack of small cards that list all of Community Ministries programs, and you can give them with the dollar); practicing a real 24-hour Sabbath; sharing a meal every week during Lent with someone you love or someone you don’t know well.
I loved one person’s Lenten practice of making their bed first thing every morning and then sitting in silence on that nicely made bed for five minutes before they started their day. Maybe it’s choosing to do one creative thing every day that brings you joy. Maybe it is deciding to always say “yes” to inner promptings instead of explaining them away.
One year, I decided that during Lent I would engage in conflict more often (I’m a terrible conflict-avoider). If I was bothered by something, instead of sweeping it under the rug, I would try to address it.
Join an Lenten initiative: If figuring out what to do feels overwhelming and solitary, consider joining a Lenten initiative like the 40 Acts Generosity Challenge, which is exactly what it sounds like: every day, you are sent a “generosity challenge” where there is one act you commit to doing that extends grace, generosity and love in some way.
Chelsea introduced me to The Common Rule that was started by her friend Justin Earley. Justin has put together a wonderful and thoughtful “rule” that helps you cultivate habits of the heart in loving God and your neighbor. Both of these initiatives will send reflections either daily or over the course of the season.
Scripture: Make a commitment to read Scripture daily. It’s not too late to join us in reading through the Bible in a year with the Bible Project’s Read Scripture app and videos. The videos are truly amazing in helping to make complex biblical themes simple and easy to understand. They’re entertaining too!
Emma Buck had a great suggestion, particularly for those who struggle with reading because of learning disabilities or getting overwhelmed, that a good Lenten discipline could be committing to watching their videos every day. There are 115 total and 3 a day would get you through their entire library.
Sabbath: Did you know that remembering the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments? It strikes at the heart of our idolatry of work and putting ourselves in the place of God. Here is a short, really helpful guide to explaining and practicing the Sabbath during Lent by Pete Scazzero, founding pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens and author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
Lenten Reading (and Coloring!): Hearts and Minds is one of my favorite independent bookstores. Byron’s Booknotes blog could be a book in itself, so thoughtful, theologically rich and full of great recommendations. I usually get books from Amazon, but decided that if I want a book because of his review, I’ll purchase it from him. It may take a few days for it to get to you but again, it’s okay to start next week!
You can find Byron’s Lenten recommendations here.
I hope that this list can inspire you for your own Lenten practice and help this season to become a time of returning to the Lord with all your heart.