This year Lent is March 1st to April 13, 2017. This is thee most important and spiritually focused period of the liturgical year. It’s also the time when some of us are most miserable. Sometimes you can easily tell who has given up their favourite foods and habits for Lent. Have you ever encountered the Starbucks coffee lover who is in desperate need of their daily 2 litres of straight black coffee, but is determined to make it through the 40 day period? Yeah, not a lovely experience.
What about the person who has given up Facebook for Lent? You discover they have given up Facebook when there is a sudden increase in texts and emails from them.
Did you notice the person who has given up beer for Lent? Friends start to notice this when the person begins to drink more wine and other adult beverages in lieu of beer.
So why am I making these borderline judgmental observations? Because, I’m annoyed by the cultural misunderstanding that we have about Lent.
In my lifetime I’ve certainly chosen random, meaningless, and spiritually empty things to give up during the season; but with each passing year I am learning more about the deeper meaning of Lent. I now realize that things I used to give up didn’t bring me any closer to identifying with Christ. These thoughtless acts didn’t help me grow in my faith.
For some people giving up items such as beer, chocolate, and coffee is very important. Giving up these luxuries and habits are a major victory over the material things in life that we become dependent on for happiness, meaning, and ability to live in peace with others.
Where I think some people miss a great opportunity for spiritual growth is when they take something away, but don’t replace it with something that will help them grow in their relationship with God. Giving up coffee and replacing it with tea, is a filler, but it’s not a time for growing unless you are intentional about it. An example of making the experience spiritual would be to use the money you would put towards coffee and donate it towards a cause that is important to you. Another idea might be praying each time you feel the need to get a coffee. When the urge hits you stop and pray to God for strength, recite a helpful verse, or engage in another spiritual activity that will help you.
These are only examples. We all lead different lives and this means how we choose to grow closer to God during Lent will look different for all of us.
If you want to get serious about Lent this year, below are some ideas and links to help get your started.
Some Ideas on Ways to Prepare for Lent
-The parables of Christ
-Listen to the Gospels or parables of Christ on audio
-Choose a daily devotional to read each day
-Do a 4 week bible study to prepare for Easter
-Choose a specific topic to pray for (peace, oppressed women in other countries, persecuted Christians in other nations, poverty in your city, etc)
-Pray through verses in the bible
-Add additional prayer time (e.g. pray morning and evening, pray grace during all three meal times, try new styles of prayer, etc.)
Almsgiving is the spiritual act of giving money or food to the poor; almsgiving is also the act of providing something to someone in need for free without the expectation of anything in return.
-If you already give regularly to a charity or cause, give a little extra if you can. If extra money is not an option for you, consider giving extra by donating your time.
-Volunteer at a soup kitchen by helping to serve food during their Spring/Easter holiday meals
-Go through your clothing and household items, donate items that are still in good condition that you no longer need.
-Do you have skills and occupational experiences that are normally unaffordable to the average person or those without insurance. Consider providing your service for free to one or two people (e.g. Offer free message services to low income parents, offer a draw for a free meal at your restaurant, file someone’s taxes for free, shovel your neighbour’s sidewalk and driveway etc.).
Repentance:Engage in authentic soul searching during the 40 day period. This involves a lot of prayer, a lot of silence, and a lot of listening. Here are some resources to help you with this process.
Intentionally Engage in Various Spiritual Disciplines