If someone had asked me when I was growing up if I knew very much about Lent, I would have answered that I did not. I knew that Lent came before Easter on the calendar. I knew that at the end of Lent we would have a Maundy Thursday pageant or service at church. And, I knew that we would get to have soup at our church every Wednesday night through Lent. I would have even realized that we usually had lentil soup at those soup suppers—a favorite soup of mine even now.
I used to think that we didn’t really do much for Lent when I was growing up, but I’ve since realized that those soup suppers were an intentional Lenten discipline for me and my family. Lent meant spending more time together as a church body. Lent meant carving space out from the customary rigors of the everyday to worship, to seek God, and to pray. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, those intentional Lenten disciplines from my childhood shaped me and formed my spiritual journey with God.
Our Lenten soup suppers always involved space for prayer. One year, we had a series of skits after the meal that taught us about spiritual practices and our journey with God. Other years, we sang hymns together. We ate together, we prayed together, and we evaluated our lives together.
When my family moved to a new town during my high school years, our new church did not observe Lent in such an intentional way. And in college, none of the churches I visited were engaged in regular Lenten practices. I fell out of the habit of taking that six-week journey with God, and I did not even realize how much I missed it until I went to seminary.
In seminary, we began Lent with an Ash Wednesday service. We talked about spiritual disciplines. We prayed. We were invited to take a six-week journey of preparation before Easter. These intentional Lenten disciplines brought me back to the faith of my childhood. They showed me the importance of making space and taking on spiritual disciplines.
The journey of Lent shaped my faith formation in childhood, and it gave me the space in adulthood to consider where God might be calling me to change my life.
Today, I find many intentional Lenten practices beneficial for me. If you are looking for something new to try—or even for something you used to do, but have forgotten—the following list of Lenten disciplines provides a good starting point.
- Reflect on one word per day. I have done this the last three years. For example, I have found it meaningful to take a picture of something inspired by the day’s word and to reflect on how that word connects with faith. My kids enjoy drawing pictures inspired by the words. This year, we are participating in #lentensnapshots2018. I have also participated in the United Methodist Church’s Lent Photo-a-Day challenge, and found it to be a meaningful discipline.
- De-clutter your life (literally). The “40 bags in 40 days” challenge encourages you to organize one room or area a day, filling up bags with things you no longer use or need. The bags can be any size. With Lent being such a busy time of year in the church (my husband and I are both pastors), I found I was unable to keep up with the challenge as it was designed. Instead, if I did not have time to fill an entire bag each day, I made sure I did something new with an item in my home every day—whether that meant donate, reuse, re-purpose, or share with someone else.
- Fast from something. Fasting is a way of sacrificing something in your life in order to rely more fully on God. A fast can be from food, from a habit, or from anything else you might miss when you give it up. I have fasted from worrying about things, from drinking coffee, and from checking anything on my phone before I take my kids to school in the mornings. In many traditions, the season of Lent is a time to give up meat. Though fasting is something that does not get talked about as much as some other disciplines, I have found it to be a beneficial practice—one that has been utilized by Christians for centuries.
- Take on a spiritual discipline. Lent is an opportunity to try something new, and it comes with a built-in beginning and ending point. Committing to read more Scripture for a whole year might seem like a daunting task. Deciding to do so for six weeks feels much more reasonable. Lent is long enough to break bad habits, but short enough that it won’t feel like an eternity if you choose something that is really challenging. Memorize some Scripture. Commit to pray for a longer period of time daily than is customary for you. Keep the Sabbath with more intentionality. Find time for silence or solitude. Taking on a spiritual discipline can be a meaningful practice any time of the year, and Lent is a great time to start.
Lent is an opportunity for intentionality and discipline, but that does not mean it is a season to dread or wish away. The word Lent derives from words meaning “lengthen” (as in the lengthening of daylight) and “spring.” During the season of Lent, we are journeying toward the light, not into deeper darkness. We take on spiritual disciplines and practices as a way of strengthening our focus so that we can see clearly. We take our reliance off of other things so that we become more mindful of our reliance on God. Now, I cannot imagine the journey to Easter without the discipline of Lent.
For forty days, Lent invites us to take the scenic route rather than the more familiar path. Stepping out of the familiar gives us the opportunity to see everything with fresh eyes. I have found that my faith needs that push at least once a year, and what better time to shake things up than Lent?