(This piece was previously published in February 2017.)
I embraced Lenten discipline over a decade ago.
I don’t love it (see this previous post for that diatribe), but I do it because I need it. My heart and soul need it. My life of discipleship needs it.
Yet every year a few days before Ash Wednesday, I have a bit of a freak out. It goes something like:
Then one of two things happens.
Either I give up something waaaaaay too big (all sugar) and spend the next 40 days in a festival of self-denial and agony…
I get myself so knotted up with indecision that I don’t give up anything at all and Lent passes me by like any old season.
Odds are I’m not the only one who struggles in the days before Lent to make a decision. Sometimes it can help to have a basic list.
For any of you who might be in my boat, here are a few tips and ideas to give something up this Lent.
First, give up something you do, use, or eat daily. One of the goals of giving something up is to drive yourself to prayer and discipleship through the daily reminder created by the absence of a regular habit.
Second, keep it simple. Don’t complicate the season with long lists of “do’s” and “don’t’s.” I’d definitely recommend not giving up more than one thing, or taking on more than one practice.
Third, make Jesus your focus. Lent isn’t the time to do Whole 30 to lose weight, or to make hitting the gym your priority so you look good in your jeans. Jesus didn’t go into the wilderness to slim down, he went there to commune with his Father.
Got it? Okay, let’s move on to ideas of what to give up:
1. A food or drink
Choose a food you eat regularly (preferably daily) that’s an indulgence of some sort. Meat, coffee, or chocolate are often good choices. When you’d normally reach for the latte, grab your Bible instead.
2. Something noisy
Choose something that introduces daily noise into your life and turn it off for Lent. Your daily podcast rotation. The car radio. Your running tunes. When you’d usually be filling your ears with the Top 40 hits, pray in the silence instead.
3. An entertainment
If you’re a movie junkie, give up your films for the 40 days. If you veg out to Netflix every night, unsubscribe for Lent. If you’re an Internet surfer, limit your Internet to email and news only. If you’re a social media addict, log off for this season. Delete those games on your phone that you go to late at night when you’re too tired to engage with the world but too wired to sleep.
4. Something centered in vanity
I had a professor who wouldn’t wear makeup during Lent. She used to tell her classes to ward off all the well-meaning but unhelpful “Are you ok? You look tired,” comments we’d make if we didn’t know. If you wear lots of colorful clothing, you could switch to all or mostly black. Give up wearing jewelry for 40 days, or give yourself a seriously pared-down wardrobe.
5. Take on a spiritual practice
Instead of giving something up, some people like to take on a new daily spiritual practice. Maybe you want to take a daily 20-minute prayer walk, pick up a new devotional, or pray through the Psalms this Lent. Light a candle with your family and read Scripture before dinner. Read through some of the great novels of the faith.
Whatever you choose, I hope join the “big C” Church (that’s the universal, worldwide one!) as we seek to love God more and know Jesus better by walking the road to the cross with him this Lent.