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5 Tips for Making the Most of Lent

—Katherine Mead-Brewer

Lent can be a difficult time for some because it can seem like a second round of New Year’s resolutions, only with less fun and greater opportunity to feel like a failure. But this isn’t what Lent is meant to be about. In the forty days of Lent we are invited to remove any barriers in our lives that may separate us from the love of God. Lent is meant to be a time of focus and prayer, of acknowledging and meditating on Christ’s sacrifice as a preparation for the glorious celebration of his resurrection. To help keep spirits up during this Lenten season, consider trying out the following exercises:

  1. Remind yourself each day of why you are participating in the act of Lenten sacrifice. Why is Lent meaningful to you? By giving yourself these little reminders, it will help keep your motivation fresh, rather than leave you feeling like Lent’s just another diet or arbitrary restriction.
  1. Don’t forget to celebrate feast days on Sundays. Giving yourself Sunday as a mini-Easter and a day of rest not only gives each week a little built-in treat, but it can remind you that time spent worshiping and meditating on the Creator isn’t meant to be a time of punishment or hunger or dreariness—it’s meant to be a time of gratitude, fulfillment, and intention.
  1. If you’re sacrificing something as part of your Lenten observance, then consider also taking something up as well. Whether it be a designated time to pray or meditate each day, a new sport or outdoor activity, a new hobby such as gardening or writing, the taking up of something new and positive as a part of Lent can be a terrific, daily reminder that Lent is more than simply a time of sacrifice. It is also a time of anticipation and giving back.
  1. Make extra time for friends and family. Lent can sometimes feel like a time of loneliness or self-denial: the denial of fun, alcohol, desserts, movies, etc. But just because a lot of classic Lenten sacrifices impact our recreational activities, it doesn’t mean that Lent should also equal a sacrifice of our social lives. Don’t let Lent become a reason to stay indoors and away from others. Instead, use it as a time to show others how grateful you are to have them in your life.
  1. Rather than focus on feelings of guilt during the days of Lent, try focusing simply on self-reflection in general. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about both the bad and the good. For many people it’s all too easy to focus on the “bad,” on what they aren’t good at, at the things they’ve done wrong, the mistakes they’ve made. But Lent isn’t about feeling terrible and running yourself into the ground. It’s about coming to terms with oneself and with God, honestly and sincerely, so that you might also be transformed, receiving the grace of new life at Eastertime. So make time for prayer, meditation, and self-reflection, and let truth rather than guilt or self-pity be your guide. As Anne Lamott has so wisely said,

God loves you just the way you are. But God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

berries

For more tips and ideas, check out this article on how to make Lent joyful from Ellie Borkowski with Life Teen and the article “Beyond Fasting” by Joe Lovino for umc.org.

Forty Ways to Care for Your Soul this Lent

During the forty days of Lent, you are invited to take better care of your soul. Here is a list of some traditional and not so traditional spiritual disciplines that may help you to grow in the knowledge and love of God.

  1. Call old friends to catch up, and thank them for being in your life
  2. Listen to music that moves you
  3. Refrain from gossiping and saying unkind things about others
  4. Go on a news/media fast for a period of time to lesson your anxiety
  5. Take more naps
  6. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen
  7. Clean out your closets and get rid of the unwanted stuff in your life
  8. Write a letter to a person who has wronged you, and then throw it away
  9. Participate in worship
  10. Give up drinking alcohol for Lent
  11. Set aside time each day to sit quietly with God, praying
  12. Read a book on spirituality by Henri Nouwen or Anne Lamott
  13. Give up eating out as much and donate that money to feed the hungry
  14. Make a list of five year, ten year, and twenty year goals for your life
  15. Spend more quality time with family and friends
  16. Participate in a class or retreat at your church
  17. Consider taking a break from people who are a toxic influence in your life

    Mary's Lemons

    I took this photo in Sorrento, Italy, where the lemon trees bear the largest and most flavorful fruit I’ve ever tasted. It reminds me that the fruits of the spirit will grow abundantly in the right setting.

  18. Exercise daily, breathing deeply, and giving thanks to God for your body
  19. Make a list of those whom you may have hurt
  20. Consider taking responsibility and making apologies
  21. Work to mend broken relationships
  22. At the end of each day, create a gratitude list
  23. Read the New Testament
  24. Cook and eat more consciously, making healthier choices, to be truly nourished
  25. Take stock of your finances and create a plan that reflects your values
  26. Tour a museum to enjoy looking at art
  27. Watch movies that make you laugh and cry
  28. Write a list of the things for which you feel sorry, your sins, and then ask God to forgive you, burning the list afterwards
  29. Spend time in nature noticing God’s hand at work in creation
  30. Go to the doctor or dentist, to care of your body
  31. Practice Breath Prayer while driving and waiting in lines, inhaling and exhaling and saying a mantra like, “God in me. Me in God.”
  32. Pick out a person you are worried about and do something thoughtful for them
  33. Choose a justice issue that worries you and talk with a friend about it
  34. Go to Starbucks less often and send the money you saved to your favorite charity
  35. Write a little every day, perhaps in a journal, even if it is just lists of things that are on your mind
  36. Take a road trip with a friend
  37. Consider how your work can be more like a ministry, day in and day out
  38. Make a list of the hymns and readings that you want to have at your own funeral
  39. Do less or do more, to achieve better balance in your life
  40. Resolve to spend time with people who may help you to become the person God intends you to be

 

—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley