I didn’t grow up observing Lent. Like most Southerners, I grew up Baptist and never participated in Ash Wednesday or Lent. To be fair, Lent is not scriptural, but it can be transformational if done correctly.
In the few years that I have participated in Lent, I have prayed about what I was to do for the 40 day observance. A lot of people give up things for Lent that they know they will not miss. This is missing the point. Others give up things they shouldn’t be doing anyway. You don’t need a religious observance to make yourself do the right thing. Lent should be purposeful.
One year, I gave up coffee. If you have read other articles on this blog (which I doubt), you know that I love coffee. Not only was this a sacrifice, it was also a healthy decision. I used to drink far too much coffee. So, giving it up was something that was difficult for me and it helped me remain mindful of my consumption when Lent was over. Now, except for rare occasions, I limit myself to two cups a day. Lent, then, was more than a man-made religious ritual, it was a starter for the formation of better habits.
If you are not using Lent for a time of spiritual growth, you are just playing church.
Last year, I gave up burgers. I also love burgers – really good burgers. Since my return to the office working world, I found that eating had become a ritual of convenience. Something about that casual approach to my body really bothered me. Meals, all meals, should be a time of thanksgiving and relaxation. Grabbing a quick meal, though sometimes a necessity, cannot become a routine. Taking time to enjoy your food and show gratitude for it is important. In America, we sometimes ignore the spiritual aspect of eating as we whoosh through a drive-thru on the way to whatever else we have crammed into our calendar. When I gave up burgers, I gave up something I loved but I also became more intentional in my eating – and more thankful. Lent became more than a man-made ritual, it became the source of better habits.
That first burger after Easter, like the first cup of coffee before that, was really good, by the way.
This year, I am trying something different. I am giving up wasted time. Shouldn’t we do that anyway, you ask? Yes, imaginary person, we should! However, with the removal of one thing, there has to be the taking on of something else. So, I am not simply giving up wasted time. You can’t give up wasted time and do nothing (because that is wasted time). I am adding some spiritual formation to my day.
Everything is spiritual. Everything.
This year, for Lent, I am replacing my wasted time with four tasks. This year, I will exercise every morning. I will also spend time each day (morning hopefully) in prayer and reflection. Additionally, I will write something every day. It may be a paragraph or it may be a full article on something. No one is expecting a masterpiece from me anyway, but I expect more discipline in my writing. So, in that respect, Lent can be formative. Finally, I will replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Most people consider me to be a pretty optimistic, positive person. However, there are times when, like most people, I assume the worst first. When I catch my thoughts wandering, which they do when I am tired especially, I am going to stop right then and think something good about the situation, person, or task at hand. This task will be hard, but is entirely scriptural (1 Peter 3:9, Romans 12:12, Proverbs 4:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Jeremiah 17:10, Psalm 19:14, Proverbs 17:22). A spiritual teacher once wrote that we give power to the things we dwell on. If we dwell on negative things, evil, we empower those things in our lives. Perhaps this is why Jesus told us not to be anxious.
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
This year may be the most difficult Lent ever. It could also be the most rewarding. Here we go!