(For those of you who might be wondering a little more about what Lent is about, here’s a great summary provided by JRForasteros.com:
“Lent is the 6 week period leading up to Easter Sunday. It begins on Ash Wednesday. The Church has historically set aside this period of time to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.
Though Lent is most famously observed by Catholics, Christians all over the world and in may denominations participate. We have records of Christians observing Lent going back very early in Church history. Lent is a practice that can unite Christians across denominational lines, reminding us that we are all rescued from Death by one God and one Resurrection.”)
It started by asking a simple question on Facebook: For those who participate in Lent, what are you giving up? Netflix? Social Media? Sugar? Selfies? Coffee? The Bachelor?
From there, several people posted a response. Initially I was going to “give up” Netflix but after talking with my wife and seeing the variety of responses, I was struck with another idea: What if Lent became about walking towards something.
Often, the Lenten season is seen as a practice of subtraction. We subtract something we value in our lives in order to draw closer to God. Which is good. But sometimes it motivates that part of us that likes to defy the odds. Like Barney Stinson we confidently say, “challenge accepted!” But I don’t think that’s the point of Lent. I think Lent is supposed to make us a little more honest about our limitations and desires.
The sobering part is discovering that it’s not God who we are needy for, but rather our instant fix of validation from each “like” we receive from a picture we posted. Or maybe it’s the sense of escape we find intoxicating when we binge on our favourite TV show. (Currently for me, it’s Friends.) But this revelation is just the tip of the iceberg. Guilt is often another accompanying element to this season because we realize how bad we are at sticking to our “sacrifice”. So, like someone who purchased a year membership at the gym but only went for the first week in January, we carry the shame of failing at Lent.
If Lent doesn’t have the scent of grace, then it’s just another effort to make ourselves feel good about what we can accomplish on our own. But what if Lent was an experiment of grace. What if it’s less about “subtraction” and more about “addition”? What if it’s about getting what you never expected or deserved? What if it’s about giving to others what we feel they don’t deserve? What if it’s about taking steps towards something unknown? It’s with these questions in mind that I decided to write down 12 practices I want to attempt for the next 40 days. It’s only 12 so that I have the chance to try a practice more than once. The idea is to write them on a piece of paper, crumple them up, place them inside a bag, and then every morning pick one as the “Lenten practice” of that day. (Or, you can be systematic about it and go through all 12 consecutively.) I don’t know what these 40 days will be like, but I’m excited to find out. You are more than welcome to join me. Below are the 12 practices. You can modify or add your own as you like. For the practices that are about “refraining”, consider what you might “add” as a replacement. Alternatively, you might want to check out these other ideas for Lent that Rachel Held Evans has created.
1. FAST FROM ONE MEAL (OR TWO OR THREE)
2. WRITE A HANDWRITTEN LETTER OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO SOMEONE.
3. INVITE SOMEONE OUT TO LUNCH OR DINNER AND PAY FOR THEIR MEAL.
4. REFRAIN FROM PURCHASING ANYTHING.
5. REFRAIN FROM CHECKING OR POSTING ANYTHING ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
6. DONATE SOME OF YOUR CLOTHES TO A THRIFT STORE.
7. SPEND TIME IN PRAYER FOR THE FAMILIES AND FRIENDS OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED FOR THEIR FAITH IN JESUS AROUND THE WORLD.
8. DONATE MONEY TO AN ORGANIZATION WHO SERVES THE MARGINALIZED IN YOUR CITY.
9. SEND A NOTE OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO A PASTOR, MENTOR OR LEADER IN YOUR LIFE.
10. REFRAIN FROM WATCHING NETFLIX OR TELEVISION.
11. REFRAIN FROM LISTENING TO MUSIC.
12. REFRAIN FROM
DRINKING COFFEE AND ALCOHOL. DRIVING A VEHICLE.
I end with the words of the Psalmist as my prayer:
“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”-Psalms 63;1