I’d never given Lent much thought until I got married. My new husband, who had grown up in a deeply Catholic culture, suddenly decided to quit drinking sodas and not eat any meat on Fridays. I didn’t even realize it was Lent and hadn’t considered giving up anything. Lent wasn’t a big tradition for my family, although I always had some friends who gave up things like chocolate or sodas for the season. My husband introduced a new twist of not eating meat on Fridays, which was fine since we loved Friday date nights at our local sushi restaurant. It left me wondering, though, what Lent was all about? Why were we really giving up these foods? What spiritual purpose did this serve? How did giving up chocolate and eating more fish bring me closer to God?
What is Lent?
Lent is a season of penitence and repentance leading up to Easter. A season where we recommit our lives to God and turn from the distractions, bad habits, and sins we’ve accumulated throughout the year and purposefully commit to moving closer to God. The season of Lent is 40 days (from Ash Wednesday to Easter, not including the Sundays) as a parallel to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. I’ve also read that it’s about 10% of the year, so like a tithe of our time to refocus on our relationship with God.
Why Give Something Up?
Lent is a great time to evaluate the current state of your relationship with God. What has come between you over the year? What do you need to change or give up in order to give him your focus? Are you giving him the “first fruits” (the best) of everything in your life – your money, time, and focus – or is there an area that needs attention?
Traditionally Lent is observed through prayer, fasting, and giving. You may also choose to take up another spiritual practice, such as adding a daily devotional or participating in a daily prayer service, in order to bring more focus to your relationship with God during this time.
Observing Lent is more than simply giving up chocolate for 40 days (unless chocolate is the thing that’s come between you and God). It’s intended to be a time of giving up something that hinders your faith, and instead devoting that time, money, or focus on rebuilding your relationship with God.
Prayerfully ask God how he wants you to observe Lent. I’ve been surprised at some of the answers he’s given me in recent years. One year, he asked me to give up an hour of sleep to wake early and spend time with Him. Another year, he asked me to give up praying for myself and instead focus my prayers only on others. He even asked me to quit doing laundry on Sundays one year and instead focus on observing Sabbath. What I found was these were areas I where I needed to refocus – and doing them for 40 days helped create new habits in my life.
So, how will you observe Lent this year?
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15 Ideas to Observe Lent (without giving up chocolate)
Giving up chocolate (or sodas or coffee) isn’t a bad idea, but do give some thought into how that sacrifice will bring you closer to God through Lent. Will you save the money you would have spent and donate it? Will you say a prayer each time you’re tempted to eat chocolate? Do you need to break a dependence on sugar so that you can give God your best?
If you’re still deciding how to observe Lent this year, below are some ideas to consider:
- Give up your coffee at Starbucks and put that money toward providing clean water or food for a child in a developing country.
- Skip breakfast or lunch once or twice a week and spend that time reading your Bible or praying.
- Fast from Facebook and instead spend 10 minutes each morning keeping a gratitude journal.
- Give up 20 minutes of sleep and wake up a bit earlier each morning. Spend that time with God. Use a daily devotional to guide your time of study and prayer.
- Give up TV watching on Saturdays and spend that time volunteering.
- Turn off the radio on your way to work or school and spend that time in prayer or listen instead to an audio Bible.
- Give up discretionary spending. Each time you think about buying something, set aside the money you would have spent. At the end of Lent, donate the money you’ve saved.
- Give up yelling and instead be intentional about keeping your voice lowered and saying only kind words.
- Skip your favorite TV show(s) during the week and instead spend that time digging into a Bible study or devotional.
- Give up resentment and anger. Spend the 40 days working to forgive and let go of anger and resentment.
- Give up mindless social media and instead use your time on Facebook to pray through your feed. Instead of reading and commenting, pray over each person or headline you see.
- Give up a comfort food (sweets, soda, fast food, etc.) and seek comfort from God through prayer and scripture each time you’re tempted for one of these foods.
- Give up focus on yourself and instead be intentional about focusing on others in your prayers and with your time and actions.
- Give up 20 minutes at the end of each day and commit to the spiritual practice of the Examen prayer, a daily debrief with God to review your day.
- Let go of your pride and look for opportunities to pray aloud with others, both friends and strangers.
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Walk with Jesus through Holy Week
To close your Lenten season, I highly recommend walking with Jesus through Holy Week. If your church doesn’t offer all of these services, find one that does and expand your experience of the season. Only attending church on Sundays during this final week of Lent takes us from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter, skipping the journey through Jerusalem, the evening in the upper room where Jesus washed the disciple’s feet and gave them his final teaching, the betrayal and trial of Jesus, Peter’s denial of Christ, the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the day without Jesus. Holy Week is a somber and memorable week to observe.
- Walk the stations of the cross and be reminded of the last walk of Christ through Jerusalem. Let this experience settle deep into your heart as you remember what Christ did for you and commit never to forget.
- Attend a Maundy Thursday foot washing service. The experience of having your feet washed is humbling and uncomfortable, yet such a vivid reminder of the example Jesus set for how to lead. “Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13:16 NIV) This service traditionally ends with the altar stepped bare, the Bible is shut closed and removed, and candles extinguished, as a reminder of the days the first Christians were left without Jesus, grieving his death before the resurrection.
- Keep watch during a Garden Watch after the Maundy Thursday service. Some churches will keep their doors open all through this night and allow people to keep watch as the disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is an evening to keep watch and pray with Jesus.
- Observe Good Friday through fasting, prayer, and meditation. This may be a day to walk the stations of the cross or attend a Good Friday service.
- Attend an Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday. This service traditionally begins in the darkness and then shifts into celebration when Jesus overcame death.
Try some or all of these Holy Week experiences to deepen your experience and truly prepare your heart for the celebration of Easter morning.
So, how will you observe Lent this year and use these 40 days to develop new (or improved) spiritual habits and deepen your relationship with God?
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