Last year I wrote a short piece on Lent to get a few things off my chest. You can read that here. If you are considering giving up beating homeless people, cheating on your spouse, robbing banks or making pornographic movies for Lent, stop now and go click that link and read that article first. If not, then you still might want to read that post, because it isn't that long, it's relevant, and it's kind of funny, I think. If you've read it, or you can't be bothered to read it, then stay here and keep reading.
Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. Thus today is Fat Tuesday. Lent starts tomorrow, so eat something you won't eat on Wednesday today, but don't go crazy, because that kind of defeats the whole point, and you'll feel terrible afterwards anyway, trust me.
Lent is the season leading to Easter where many Christians decide to give something up for 40 days. The main point of this is to create some discipline in your life that will help you draw near to Christ by pondering Jesus love whenever you crave that thing you gave up. The season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. However, if you ask Siri on Ash Wednesday how many days until Easter she will tell you, 46. Yep, that's right, 46 days. What gives? Well, the good folks from many centuries ago that gave us the tradition of Lent thought it was wrong to fast on Sunday because that is the day Jesus rose from the dead and we were to celebrate his resurrection and grace in our lives by not fasting or doing any other sort of penance on His day. So back in the day, when you gave up something for Lent, you could still partake of that thing on Sundays. Mind blown! Maybe this is old info for you, but it's new to me, and I love the concept. Each week, you take a short respite from whatever you've decided to do for Lent to celebrate Jesus great love, grace and mercy in our lives. It makes the partaking a celebration of Jesus, just as the discipline of not doing something is also meant to help us celebrate Jesus.
Ready for another mind explosion? Me too. Last year, my friend Jill posted on Facebook that instead of giving something up for Lent, she was going to "take something on." PO&(&*)(^(*&%(*. That is the sound of my head exploding at the speed of light. This is an amazing idea! Once again, this may be old hat to you, but it was an "a-ha" moment for me. Here is why...... following Jesus isn't about giving things up and NOT doing stuff. Too often Christianity gets painted as a list of things you aren't supposed to do. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't sleep with people you aren't married to, don't lie, steal, etc. However, if you read the New Testament you'll see that Jesus spends way more time talking about what we should do, not what we shouldn't. So instead of not doing something, decide to DO something. My friend decided to wake up early for 40 days to give that time to Jesus. Great idea. You could decide to write a personal note of encouragement to a different person everyday for 40 days. You could commit to reading everyday for an hour. You could commit to spending 20 minutes in silence everyday. You might consider exercising everyday for 40 days (skipping those Sundays) to help you kickstart getting in shape and making that into a spiritual discipline. If getting into shape and getting closer to Jesus can happen simultaneously, I think Jesus would be stoked about that. Yes, I think Jesus gets stoked.
I love the idea of taking something on because when we take something great on, it leaves less time and energy for something that really doesn't matter. If you spent more time reading, you'd have less time to watch TV. If you spend time getting in shape, you'll probably spend less time reading through your Twitter feed. My favorite analogy on this topic comes form a book I read a long time ago called He That Is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chaffer who founded Dallas Theological Seminary. I'm paraphrasing, if you look at trees, especially in Texas, they keep their leaves through the winter, and the leaves don't fall off until the spring. Why don't they fall off until the spring? Because they are hanging on for dear life, but they finally fall when a new leaf begins to grow in behind them and it pushes the old one off. This is what our walk with Jesus is like. When Jesus begins to change us from the inside out and create a desire to live differently, this new life pushes the old life out. The old life wants to hang on, and that can be a painful struggle. When you begin to take on the things of God, you have less time for the things that don't please God. So this year, I'm taking something on for Lent to better emulate how the Spirit works in my life.
I've decided to run for 30ish minutes at 6:30 each morning (my job keeps me out pretty late several nights a week, so 6:30 feels really early). This lets me finish just as my kids are waking up. It will also will help me get in shape, help me be more disciplined, and when I'm waking up early and it's painful I can talk to Jesus about that. I also have good conversations with Him while I run. However, I've also decided to give up bread for 40 days (you bet I'll cheat responsibly on Sundays to celebrate Jesus grace) to help kickstart getting my diet back under control. I've been quite lax in this discipline recently.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas on what to do for Lent as well. If you need a few more ideas, here are some:
- Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy a few too many clothes? Spend a few too many bucks on iTunes? Eating out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and give the money you would usually spend to a great local charity.
- Make a point to learn as much about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, AIDS victims, child poverty) as possible. Give money to an organization, related to your chosen issue that supports the dignity of the human person.
- List 5 things you're thankful for everyday.
- Read a passage of scripture each day and write down a few observations and/or applications from that passage.
- Take someone to lunch once a week each week. Spend the whole lunch talking about their life, not yours.
- Commit to memorizing a chapter from the Bible. Yep, the entire chapter.
A few final thoughts.
- Don't be legalistic about any of this. Jesus isn't a fan of legalism, so approach Lent with lots of grace and commitment.
- If you're not a Christian (yet) you can still participate. Everything above applies, even if you're just trying to figure out the whole following Jesus thing. In fact, Lent might be a great opportunity to do something (or give something up) that will help you focus more acutely on who Jesus is and how following Him might transform your own life.
- Share this experience with others. I prefer team sports to individual sports, and I prefer to do life with people instead of alone. I think God designed us this way, so walk through Lent with some new or old friends.
Share your ideas about Lent below in the comments.