It might sound odd, but I'm kind of looking forward to Lent this year. You may or may not believe it, but next week is Ash Wednesday. It feels as though we shouldn't be getting ready for Lent yet. On the other hand - it's later in the year than usual so I guess it's about time.
In the past, I've written about Ash Wednesday and Lent and kind of have poked fun at how we recognize this time of the year in the Christian church. You can read it here.
Traditionally, I feel like we think of Lent as a time when we have to feel guilty about everything and be sad all of the time. We're supposed to reflect on sacrifice, how we're awful sinners, and we don't deserve anything. Which... I guess is true to an extent. But it all goes back to guilt I think. Or we at least get in the mindset of guilt.
Which makes it seem odd that I would be excited for Lent.
For the record- no where in the Bible does it say we HAVE to practice Lent. In fact, Lent isn't even in the Bible. It's a time of year the early church set aside to prepare for Good Friday, Easter, etc. So, if you don't practice Lent or do anything for it - that's okay! You're not a bad Christian or anything like that.
To me, when I think of Lent, I don't think about guilt. I think about having 40 days to have extra reasons to focus on Jesus. In a way, it's like a reset button so I can have a time of cleansing and refocusing, because so many times I loose track of where I should be looking and thinking.
This year marks the first year in a long time where I do not have any responsibilities for Lent. Working as youth minister, Lent was a really busy time for me. The youth served meals every Wednesday, prepared an Easter Breakfast, and held a garage sale. All of these are great things and it was good we did them. However, I would be so exhausted every week there were times I barely thought about what the whole point of it was.
This year I don't have any of those obligations.
I can pick how I practice Lent this year. Where I go to worship on Sundays (if I choose to). What I participate in. What will work the best for me to get my focus back where it should be. How I can really let Jesus shine through.
There are several ways people practice Lent. The most common way is to give up something. Another one is to fast (which... is still giving up something. Technically.). I talked about that a bit in my post a couple of years ago. This is perfectly fine and I know of some people who have gotten a lot out of practicing this. However, if you want to read my concerns about it, read my post from a couple of years ago here.
As I was brainstorming today's topic, I decided to go on Facebook and ask my friends what their favorite Lenten practices have been. They had some amazing (and some hilarious) ideas.
- "I've tried giving things up in the past, but never felt I truly did it for the right reason. It was more like a "glorified diet", like no chocolate, or no junk food. One time I gave up caffeine...I didn't make it. Haha. BUT, I have tried adding something each day that helps to strengthen my faith, and I've found that to be the most meaningful of all my attempts. One time I did adding a daily devotion. Another time I read a section from a book about reasons Jesus died for us (I forget the title) each day. To each their own, of course, but I found that taking something on rather than giving something up worked better for me.
-"A friend of mine two years ago chose to do a daily 'cleansing' but did so by going through her closets, kitchen cabinets, garage, etc. One day it would be scarfs; she would keep 4 or 5, and then donate the rest. Same with coffee mugs; keep some but donate the rest. Each day it was something. I thought it was a cool idea!"
- "I try to change things that have become part of my daily routine that aren't the best. Like, instead of spending a spare ten minutes on Facebook, I spend it in prayer or reading the Bible. I still give something up because I feel it has good intent behind it, and when done in prayer, can be quite powerful."
- "I have given up stuff a few times in the past, but I always felt like I was glorifying myself in that. Look at what I can do, I have so much willpower type deal. A few years ago I started picking something specific and praying for it every day during lent. One year for example it was all pro-life things and then next year it had to do with human trafficking and healing for victims and also working to stop it. I haven't decided what I'll pick for this year yet but I have found that the idea of picking something very intentional and focused on a broad topic works well for me. Am I making sense? I think I explained it well."
"Every year I do the lenten breakfast and make king's cake to share."
- "I make a point to thank God for something new in my prayers every night. So often we are wrapped up in ourselves when we pray so I make sure I say thanks instead of asking for "special favors."
- "I gave up make up my freshman year of college. It was good, I was way too concerned with appearance. After that I felt much freer to decide how to present myself. God sets us free as he sends Jesus to the cross. Do I care how I look? Of course, it's now part of my job, but it does not rule who I am. All because God gave me the courage to go barefaced for six weeks."
- "Eating a crapton of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, pretending Lent doesn't exist, and then eating a crapton of chocolate on Easter Sunday. That probably wasn't the answer you were looking for.......;" (OK... no... but YEAH FOOD I LOVE FOOD.)
- "I've toyed with the idea of giving up church for Lent but it seems almost too ironic...."
- "I do my best to give up guilt each Lent."
A few other ideas:
- Try getting a book of prayers. I used The Divine Hours Eastertide where I had four times of devotions and prayers a day.
- Volunteer your time and/or money to a favorite charity
- Read a book
- Take up journaling
- Pick a book of the Bible to read through
- Fully observe a traditional Sabbath each week during Lent
This year, I'm doing two things. One, I just ordered a devotional and reflective journal where each week I'll be focusing on one of four themes: hope, follow, live, and bless.
The second thing I will be doing is something I've been thinking about starting on here for awhile. The title of this blog is about love, and in theory, this whole blog is about love. Yet, I feel like I've gotten away from that. So I want to start 40 Days of Love Sightings.
Everyday from Ash Wednesday until Easter, I'll share ways I see love in everyday life. Whether it's a way I see love from my friends and family and people around me, or even just someone I happen to see that I see as I go about life. (Example: last week while at Starbucks before church I saw old friends reunite and it was so sweet!) Then at the end of whatever blog post I'm writing that day, I'll share what I saw.
I'll even take submissions from you!
This way, instead of focusing on guilt and how awful we feel as people, we can see how God (love) is being expressed every day.
If you recognize Lent, what will you be doing this year? Do you have any suggestions that I missed? Any favorites you saw in what my friends said or what I listed?