So, how’s Lent going for you? Like this?
Or more like this?
Did you give something up? Take something on? Scrap the whole idea?
I sort of slipped into the season. I got a head start by taking on my spiritual practice a little before Lent officially started. But then things went downhill. By Sunday, I realized I’d already lapsed. Five days in, for those counting.
Naturally, I was tempted to throw in the towel then and there. If I couldn’t make it FIVE DAYS, how was I supposed to do 46? But I didn’t and here’s why:
Lent isn’t a rule book, a test of our character or a mark of our individual holiness. It’s simply an opportunity to experiment. It’s a chance to discover a deeper relationship with God at each stage of our lives.
Even in progressive Protestant traditions, we struggle to remember this. We either approach Lent as some obligatory stage we have to go through to get to Easter or we throw it out as an archaic, irrelevant tradition. Both approaches miss the real point.
Lent “works” because it makes space for prayerful self-reflection. That’s it. There is no other Lent magic. It’s not about who can give up the most or who can pray the hardest. It’s about practicing something that we think will help us grow in our spiritual journeys.
So no matter how you arrived at this point in the season (1 week down!) embrace it as an opportunity for examination. Give yourself some time to pray, think and ponder. What does this season mean for you? What’s your intention? What do you need to give up or take on in order to experience God more deeply? And how is that working?
It’s the practice of self-examination that will change your life in Lent, not merely the observance itself. The yogis out there might relate this to the difference between practicing yoga as a spiritual practice and doing it for exercise. While both approaches have mental, emotional and physical benefits, the spiritual component comes in when we set an intention for our daily practice. It’s when we take time to set our focus on something bigger than “losing weight,” or “getting stronger” or “havig sexy abs” that we find the practice moves from exercise to spirituality.
Setting an intention or dedication for your yoga practice acts like a metaphor to translate your practice off your mat and into your life. It is a vehicle that makes yoga an aspect of your lifestyle, rather than something you do just for exercise. Ahlia Hoffman at Mind Body Green
The same is true for Lent. Being conscious of our goals and attitudes is what makes the difference between going through the motions and growing in the season. Here are the steps I find helpful when examining my Lenten journey:
- Set your intention each day as you recommit yourself to this experimental season. What are you hoping to get out of it that day? Are you hoping to learn to trust in God by giving something up? To experience gratitude by paying attention to all that you have? To experiencing the commitment of keeping a daily prayer time? Or to being grace-full with yourself as you discover your imperfection? Keep in mind that each day’s intention may change–or not. But simply making the time to check in with yourself will be the thing that anchors your Lent.
- Ask God to bless your intention for the day or lift it up to God in some way. Light a candle, write your intention in your journal, pause for a quick prayer before you get out of bed.
- At the end of the day, review your Lenten practice. How did it challenge you today? How did it comfort you? Where did you see God in it? Or where was God hard to find? If you journal, it would be fascinating to review the answers to these questions once Easter comes. But even if this doesn’t become written record, it will still guide you into deeper understanding of yourself and God as you move into Easter.
The beauty of this is that it works even if you failed that day. In fact, it might be even more important on the days you failed. Examining what happened for you, what shifted your intention, what caused you to veer from your goal might tell you more about yourself than you’d learn through success.
I, for one, have learned some interesting things about myself and my priorities through the examination of why my commitment to a deepened prayer practice slipped so early. That was hard. And good. May your Lent be blessed with some hard, good things too.