Have you decided what you will give up for Lent yet? In the past, a Lenten discipline meant giving something up, often something that we shouldn’t have been doing anyway.
Those Lenten disciplines are still valid, especially if you tie the giving up to something spiritual. For example, you give up sugar and contribute the money you would have spent on sweets to ELCA World Hunger.
But what if instead of giving something up, we added something to enrich our spiritual lives? For those of you who are baffled, below are some suggestions to help you launch into Lent.
Increase your reading
You might wail, “But what should I read?” Why not start with the Bible? Read a Gospel from beginning to end. Dip into some of the other New Testament books. Read a Psalm a day.
Lent is also a good time to add some devotional reading to your day. You’ve got a lot of possibilities. Choose a theological author, and chances are good that someone has taken part of their work and transformed it into a devotional resource.
Augsburg Fortress has a wonderful “40 Day Journey With _” series (Julian of Norwich, Madeleine L’Engle, and Kathleen Norris, among many others) which combines the writing of the author, some Scripture reading, some questions to ponder and some writing prompts.
You might decide you want to continue this discipline beyond Lent. Luckily the series has many books.
For a more traditional series with reading alone, look for the “A Year with _” series (Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C.S. Lewis, among many others).
Boost your prayer life
If you’re not praying on a regular basis, now’s a good time to start. Begin your day with prayer, or end it with prayer or both.
If you’re not sure what to say, start with thank you. Or, pray the Lord’s Prayer. If you want a bit more discipline, try praying for people who annoy you.
Pray for countries that seem opposed to ours.
Pray for peace.
Ask God for what you need. Ask God to be with leaders. Ask God to be with those who need help: Pray for the sick, pray for the newly wedded, pray for that homeless person you always see wandering around, pray for your boss, pray for your family, pray for the local schools.
Experiment with a creative practice
You may not think of yourself as creative, but you likely were creative once. Try one or more of the following to reconnect with your artistic self:
- Buy a big box of crayons (or paints or pastels or any medium that makes you excited). Create a picture that addresses your spiritual life.
- Go to the store and buy three bouquets of flowers. Rearrange them into two bouquets and put them where you’ll see them and be reminded of God’s flowering love for you. Take this process one step further: Plant a flower pot or a garden.
- The image of God as a potter recurs in the Bible. Buy some clay and play with it. If you are the clay, how is God shaping you? Make that shape.
- Learn to bake bread. Bread is an amazingly forgiving food and will endure countless experiments.
- Start a spiritual journal. Each day, write down five things you’re grateful for. Or write down people you need to remember to pray for. Or write a short meditation on a Bible verse or a song. Make a list of where you see God at work in the world. Write out your prayers.
Step up your charitable efforts
Hopefully, you’re already making some attempt to be part of God’s vision for social justice, either by contributing time, money or materials. You might consider a few of the following suggestions:
- Make an extra contribution to your favorite charity. Maybe you could make one extra contribution per week. It doesn’t have to be huge. But it could be.
- Clean out your closets. Give away anything you haven’t worn in the past year. Clean out your kitchen cupboards.
- When you go to the grocery store, buy some extra food for your favorite charity.
- See if you can increase your tithe by 5 or 10 percent above what you’re doing now.
- Give some extra time during Lent. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or a food pantry. Go to a nursing home and sing some old gospel songs. Think about the people you know who have lives that are falling apart; go buy cards and put them in the mail.
Try a spiritual practice that you’ve never tried before
Don’t feel compelled to go too far outside of your comfort zone. But even within your comfort zone, you’ll probably notice many practices that you might have wanted to try or that you once tried and let fall away:
- Find a labyrinth and walk it. Many churches and retreat centers have installed labyrinths. What do you do once you’re there? Simply walk. Follow the path in and follow it back out again — you can’t go wrong. Some people pray or recite a Bible verse as they walk.
- Go to a weekly concert. Many churches offer a weekly concert during Lent, often at lunchtime. Call some of the churches around your workplace to see if they’re offering anything. Leave the office, sit in a worship site, and enjoy some different music.
- Many churches offer an extra service during the week or Bible study. Resolve to add one opportunity to your weekly schedule.