Lenten Practices

Jaime VanNostrand   -  
The season of Lent, while in many ways very much unlike the celebratory season of Christmas, does share at least one thing in common with that more festive time of year. Each of these seasons has taken on some assumed cultural baggage which can obscure its true meaning and make it more difficult for those who follow Jesus to discover and align themselves with the beating heart of the season.

Most of us are familiar with the practice of giving something up for Lent. Maybe we give up sweets – we might as well try to kick off that diet that we meant to start after New Year’s. Maybe we give up coffee – it doesn’t count as a sacrifice unless it makes us really miserable, right? But what’s the point? Is Lent just supposed to make us feel bad? Is it a spiritually sanctioned attempt at tough-loving us into living our hashtag best life?

I’d like to gently suggest that the practice of sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake is an elaborate and unpleasant exercise in missing the point. Particularly in the context of a world in which many of us have, over the last couple of years, lost friends, family, normalcy, playdates, trips to the movies, pleasures and comforts large and small. I don’t believe that a stern and exacting God stands at the threshold of the season demanding that we make sacrifices for sacrifice’s sake. I would like to suggest instead a God of comfort and companionship and provision, eager to accompany us as we explore the clarifying freedom of letting go.

Of course, it is still entirely possible that giving up or letting go just isn’t the right posture for you or for your family at this time. That doesn’t mean you can’t meaningfully observe Lent! There is also a rich tradition
in adding something during lent like a prayer practice or a spiritual discipline.

In recognition of the richness of this season, I would like to offer you a bit of a choose your own adventure Lenten practice this month. Below you will find 3 “giving up/letting go” practices and three practices in which you are taking something on. You may choose one practice to observe throughout Lent, you may decide to try all six in turn, one practice for each of the six weeks of the season. Perhaps it would be more meaningful to practice only the letting go practices of vice versa. Spend some time in prayerful reflection and consider what might be most meaningful to you personally in this season of preparation.

Letting Go

  • Give up posting on social media. Explore the freedom from the public performance of your life and identity.
  • Give up rush and busyness. If you drive a vehicle, give up speeding! School age kids may want to figure out ways to slow down the processes of getting ready for school or doing homework. Explore the freedom of untethering yourself from the clock.
  • Give up your stuff. Choose one item per day that you can throw away, give away, or recycle and explore the freedom that comes in letting go of your attachment to possessions.

Spiritual Disciplines

  • Consider a daily gratitude practice, journaling through your thoughts or sharing them with your loved ones around the dinner table. Connect with the God of provision.
  • Find small ways each day to be of service to others. Connect with the God of the upside down kingdom in which the greatest among us is a servant to all.
  • Close each day with the Examen Prayer. Make it a part of your rhythm to locate God in your day and to locate yourself in God.

Pay attention to what works for you! You may decide to try each of these practices for a week, one for each of the six weeks of Lent. You may decide to do only the letting go practices or vice versa. The important thing is that you identify which of these suggestions will best allow you to draw close to God in the season ahead and root yourself (as well as your prayer and your practice) there.