It may sound strange, but Lent is one of my favorite times in the church calendar. Lent is the season that lasts for forty days (not including Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
The purpose of Lent is for Christians to prepare for Easter. Some people observe fasting and set aside time for reflection on the sacrifice Jesus made for us and on his life, death, burial, and resurrection. Others find it helpful to add a spiritual discipline.
When I was younger, I had many friends who seemed to “give up” something for Lent. I started observing the practice, without giving much thought to why I was doing it.
I often would give up chocolate or sweets for Lent. I would do this with much drama and fanfare. I would tell everyone I knew about my “huge sacrifice” and would happily indulge in chocolate on Easter morning. As an adult, I somehow came to realize that this wasn't really a huge sacrifice and came to believe that I needed to sacrifice something “bigger” – something I would really miss – something that would really help me understand what it means to sacrifice.
Somehow, this resulted in the practice that I carried out for several years – I gave up Diet Coke AND sweets. Now, to be fair, this WAS a much bigger sacrifice for me. I have a very unhealthy relationship with Diet Coke; for me it is my “coffee” and I typically have one or two cans before noon. Giving it up was always difficult for me. However, I don't think I had any great spiritual growth happen because I gave up Diet Coke.
When I had children they also wanted to take part in the discipline of “giving something up” for Lent. I remember distinctly the year my young son gave up pancakes and my daughter gave up her favorite cartoon. They sincerely believed they were making great sacrifices.
However, when I thought about this practice I realized it wasn't doing a whole lot to help us grow on our own faith journey.
When thinking about a Lenten discipline, I think it is important to consider things that will help you focus on what Lent is really about. I think it is helpful to possibly add a discipline like prayer, daily devotions, or intentional ways of serving or giving to others.
Maybe what we should be giving up during Lent is time and things that are getting in the way of our relationship with God?
Here are some great ideas you or your family can try during this Lent season:
1. Pray your way through Lent – For a few years I prayed through my Facebook Friend list for Lent. This was a powerful experience for me. I divided my list into 40 days and before each day I sent a personal message to each person asking for their prayer requests. If they sent me a personal request, I prayed for that. If they didn't, I lifted up general prayers for that person. This opened up some amazing conversations with people.
Kids can make a list of 40 people they want to pray for through the Lent season as well (if they aren't on Social Media sites).
2. Write 40 letters – Write a letter to 40 people who have made a significant influence on you (one a day for each day in Lent). If 40 is overwhelming to you or to young children, write 6 – one each week during Lent.
3. Read through one of the Gospels in 40 days
4. Attend a weekly Lenten worship service
5. Drink only water through Lent – Figure out how much money you would have spent on other beverages (coffee, soda, etc.) and donate that money to a charity that provides clean water to a place that needs it.
6. Lent photo-a-day – Create a list of words for each day of Lent and challenge a group of friends, or your church, or maybe just your family to take a picture each day of something that represents that word to them. We did this challenge two years ago and found it very meaningful. This is especially fun to do if you have older kids who are on Instagram and other social media apps. Even if you don't, your younger kids can have fun choosing a picture you will post together as a family.