Thank you for joining us today as we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the very beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. In preparation for today’s homily, I took some time to reflect on growing up in my family and how we celebrated Lent. Interestingly enough, we didn’t eat meat on any Friday throughout the year. Not just during Lent. Instead, on Friday’s throughout the year we had for dinner: fried egg sandwiches, fish filets, mac and cheese or cheese pizza. In our family every Friday had a sacrificial aspect to it – though eating my mother’s delicious four cheese mac and cheese could hardly be considered a sacrifice or hardship of any kind!
So, what exactly is Lent?
Some believe that 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 40 days is about 10% of the year, so 40 days is like a tithe of our time to refocus on our relationship with God.
Why would we give something up for Lent?
Lent is a great time to evaluate the current state of our relationship with God. Asking ourselves questions, such as: What has come between us and God over the year? What do we need to change or give up in order to give God the focus God deserves in our lives? Are we giving God the “first fruits” (the best) of everything in our life – our money, time, and focus – or is there an area that needs attention?
Traditionally Lent is observed through prayer, fasting, and giving. We 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 our relationship with God during Lent.
Observing Lent is more than simply giving up chocolate for 40 days (unless chocolate is the very thing that’s come between us and God).
Lent is intended to be a time of giving up something that hinders our faith, and instead devoting that time, money, or focus on rebuilding our relationship with God. Essentially we give something up in order to open up space in our lives for something more meaningful to fill that space. Something meaningful enough to positively impact our relationship with God.
How will we observe Lent this year?
Prayerfully ask God how God wants us to observe Lent.
I’ve been surprised at some of the answers God has given me in recent years:
- One year, God asked me to give up an hour of sleep to wake early and spend time with God.
- Another year, God asked me to give up praying for myself and instead focus my prayers only on others.
- God even asked me to quit eating dessert altogether one Lent and I can assure you that was a very long Lent!
My take-away was that these were areas where I needed to refocus – and doing them for 40 days helped create new habits in my life.
Giving up chocolate (or sodas or coffee) isn’t a bad idea, but give some thought into how that sacrifice will bring us closer to God through Lent.
- Will we save the money we would have spent and donate it?
- Will we say a prayer each time we’re tempted to eat chocolate?
- Do we need to break a dependence on sugar so that we can give God our best?
If you’re still deciding how to observe Lent this year, I found a list of Lenten ideas online which I thought I’d share. They’re not my ideas, but some good ideas for us to consider if we’re still on the fence unsure if we even want to give something up for Lent – or add something to our lives during Lent. Maybe consider:
#1: Give up our daily Starbucks Many of us love to stop by Starbucks (or another local coffee shop) in the morning? What if we gave that up for Lent – and instead put the money we’d have spent on coffee toward building freshwater wells in a developing country?
#2: Give up lunch or breakfast Maybe we’re not sure if we can take on a big fast? So maybe try a mini-fast. Skip breakfast or lunch once or twice a week. Don’t just fill that time with more work, though. Spend that time in prayer or reading your Bible.
#3: Give up Facebook or Instagram Maybe we spend a lot of time on social media? Constantly checking the latest updates on Facebook or Instagram? Consider giving that up for Lent. Delete the app from our phone, so we’re not as tempted. Instead of checking our news feeds each morning, spend 10 minutes each day keeping a gratitude journal.
#4: Give up 30 minutes of sleep Feel stretched for time for prayer and Bible study? For the season of Lent, we could commit to waking up at least 30 minutes earlier. We could set our alarm, brew a cup of home made coffee, and spend that extra 30 minutes with God before the rest of our house is up. We might consider a daily devotional to guide our time of study and prayer (including Simplify: Spiritual Songs for for Lent posted here on Emmanuel Voices.)
#5: Give up TV on Saturdays How do we spend our weekends? Do we find ourself binge-watching Netflix on Saturday? We could try giving up TV on Saturdays (or all weekend) and instead spend that time volunteering. Check if the local food pantry, clothing re-sale, or a Habitat for Humanity chapter has a workday we can join.
#6: Give up our car radio Do we spend a lot of our day in the car driving to and from work, or shuttling kids from one activity to the next. Consider turning off the car radio and spend that time in prayer or listening to the audio Bible.
#7: Give up discretionary spending Each time we’re tempted to spend money on something that isn’t a true NEED, say no. Instead, set aside the amount we would have spent. At the end of Lent, donate the money we’ve saved.
#8: Give up yelling Do we find ourselves losing our temper and yelling – at our kids, at our spouse, at others? Make a practice to be intentional about giving up yelling for Lent. Ask those close to us to be your accountability partners. Each time we feel ourselves starting to yell, be intentional about quieting our voices and saying only kind words.
#9: Give up our favorite TV shows during the week. Do we love to kick back after work and watch a favorite TV show (or 3 or 4)? Or, maybe our TV is always on watching the news or sporting events? Give up those weekday TV shows and instead spend that time digging into a Bible study or devotional or reading a book that brings us closer to God.
#10: Give up resentment and anger Has anger or resentment made a home in our hearts? Lent is a great time to send them packing! Spend the 40 days of Lent in prayer to forgive and let go of anger and resentment. Dig deep with God over the sources of anger and resentment and ask God’s help to heal our hearts.
#11: Give up mindless social media Don’t think we can give up social media altogether? Then make it a more intentional and prayerful experience. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through our news feeds, pause over each post and picture to pray over the person or headline we see.
#12: Give up comfort foods Where do you find comfort on the hard days? Do you reach for the ice cream, cookies, or fried food? Consider giving up these comfort foods and instead look for comfort in God alone. Seek God through prayer and scripture.
#13: Give up focusing on ourselves Have we been in a season of focusing on ourselves and our own needs? Maybe our prayers have been centered on a need in our life or we’ve slipped into a self-focused season? Give up focusing on ourselves for Lent, and be intentional about devoting our time and prayers to others.
#14: Give up 20 minutes at the end of the day Stay up a little bit later or cut out 20 minutes of some other evening activity to spend time in prayer before bed. Commit to the spiritual practice of a daily debrief with God to review our day.
#15: Give up our fear of praying out loud Are we afraid to pray aloud? Give up the thing that’s holding us back – pride, fear, embarrassment. Seek out opportunities to pray aloud with others, both friends and strangers.
These are just some ideas for Lent which I found online. I think at the end of the day, whatever we choose to do – or to not do – during this Lenten season … should be driven by INTENTION. What is our intention this Lent? Do we want to cruise through Lent. Or do we want to use this time to foster a deeper relationship with God … and others?
Thank you for keeping me in your prayers during Lent and know that you are in mine as well.
Peace friends, chuck
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog